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Justices take case of dismissed drug charges

January 8, 2010

The Indiana Supreme Court will decide whether a trial court was correct when it sua sponte decided to exclude evidence from a warrantless search of a defendant's car and dismiss the drug charges against the man based on that search.

The state's high court granted transfer Thursday to State of Indiana v. James S. Hobbs IV, No. 19S01-1001-CR-10, in which the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded the Dubois Superior Court judge erred in excluding the evidence and dismissing charges of possession of marijuana and paraphernalia against James Hobbs.

Police served a felony warrant on Hobbs while he was at work. Prior to serving the warrant, police saw him leave the restaurant he worked at, put something in his car, and go back inside. Hobbs refused permission to search his car, so a narcotics detection dog sniffed the outside of it. The dog smelled an illegal narcotic and inside the car police found a cooler that contained scales, rolling papers, and marijuana.

After the trial court dismissed the charges, the state filed a motion to correct error and a change of judge; those motions were denied.

The Court of Appeals unanimously concluded the warrantless search didn't violate Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution and the three factors of Litchfield were satisfied.

"The narcotics detection dog's alert, on the exterior of Hobbs' vehicle, to the presence of contraband supplied the probable cause necessary for further police investigation of the contents of Hobbs' vehicle. Accordingly, the warrantless search of Hobbs' vehicle does not appear to have contravened the Fourth Amendment as interpreted by our Supreme Court," wrote Judge James Kirsch in the Oct. 21, 2009, Court of Appeals opinion.

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