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Police allowed to test seized shoe without warrant

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The Indiana Supreme Court held Wednesday that police do not need to have a warrant before testing lawfully seized evidence, even if that evidence is unrelated to the crime for which the defendant is in custody.

Douglas A. Guilmette argued that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress the DNA evidence of Greg Piechocki found in blood in Guilmette’s shoe. Guilmette stole Piechocki’s car keys and cash while Piechocki was asleep in their co-worker’s house and Guilmette drove to Wal-Mart and Meijer, where he stole several items. He returned the car and left around 7 a.m. The co-worker discovered Piechocki’s body that afternoon, and it was determined Piechocki died from injuries suffered from being hit by a baseball bat.

Police questioned Guilmette and arrested him on two counts of theft after he admitted to taking the keys and money from Piechocki. They seized his clothes in accordance with standard booking protocol. After discovering what appeared to be blood on his shoe, police had it tested, which revealed Piechocki’s DNA. Guilmette was then also charged with murder and being a habitual offender. He was convicted as charged and sentenced to 92 years in prison.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, although the panel believed the DNA should not have been admitted, but was a harmless error. In Douglas A. Guilmette v. State of Indiana, 71S04-1310-CR-705, the justices also affirmed in a decision authored by Justice Mark Massa.

Guilmette argued the evidence’s admission violated Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution because he was arrested for theft, but then his shoe was seized to search for evidence of his involvement in the murder. He argued the DNA test was not a valid search incident to arrest, and the police should have had a warrant before performing it.

This is a question of first impression under the state constitution, but the admissibility of that same evidence under the Fourth Amendment is well-established, Massa pointed out.

“And we see no reason to reach a different result under our own state constitution. Police had a justifiably strong suspicion that Guilmette had murdered Piechocki; Guilmette lied about his activities during the relevant time period, stole Piechocki’s money and keys, and had what appeared to be (and in fact was) blood on his shoe. The intrusion on Guilmette’s ordinary activities was minimal, as officers routinely seize an arrestee’s personal effects, including clothing, as part of the booking procedure. Finally, although there was no exigency requiring immediate testing of the blood on the shoe, it would be extremely cumbersome to require law enforcement to take the ‘belt-and-suspenders’ approach of applying for an independent warrant anytime they wish to examine or test a piece of evidence they have already lawfully seized,” he wrote.

It also does not matter that the test revealed evidence of a different crime from that for which he was arrested, the justices held. They summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals decision on all other matters.

 

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  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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