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Justices affirm search warrant, convictions

January 1, 2008
The Indiana Supreme Court yesterday affirmed a defendant's convictions of dealing in cocaine and possession of marijuana because the initial search warrant was supported by sufficient probable cause. One justice dissented, fearing the logic used by the majority to affirm the search warrant would invite more searches by the government that could violate both the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.

In Willie Eaton v. State of Indiana, No. 89S04-0802-CR-106, Willie Eaton appealed his drug convictions, arguing the initial search warrant wasn't supported by probable cause and the trial court erroneously admitted evidence seized without sufficient authorization in the search warrants.

Eaton went to a muffler store in Richmond to meet with Edgar Gonzalez, who earlier in the day police stopped for speeding. Police found cocaine in the car and Gonzalez admitted he was on his way to deliver it to some men in Richmond. The police officer rode with Gonzalez to his destination and implanted a recording device in the vehicle.

After they reached the muffler store and Eaton arrived, police entered the business. A warrant was issued to search Eaton's home based on the police officer that rode with Gonzalez stating that drug traffickers commonly kept money and records regarding drug trades on cell phones, computers, and other items at home.

During the search for records, police saw several items in the home - including cocaine - that resulted in a second warrant, which was granted for seizure of various additional items.

The majority of the high court found the police established probable cause to allow for the first search warrant. The affidavit shows Eaton was involved in receiving and unloading a large amount of drugs and incriminating records were likely to be found at his home.

"Evaluating the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that the facts set forth in the affidavit established a fair probability, that is, a substantial chance, that evidence of drug trafficking would be found at the defendant's residence," wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

The police were allowed to take items during the second search warrant that weren't enumerated in the search warrant because they inadvertently discovered items of apparent criminality while rightfully occupying a particular location, the justice wrote, citing Jones v. State, 783 N.E.2d 1132, 1137 (Ind. 2003), and Houser v. State, 678 N.E.2d 95, 101 (Ind. 1997).

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, finding as a matter of law that none of the facts from the officer's affidavit established probable cause to search Eaton's house.

"Today's ruling invites the Government's search of a suspect's business, home, garage, tool shed, workshop, or any other property a suspect may use simply because a law enforcement officer believes, without more, that evidence of crime can be found there. In my view this is an anathema to the mandate of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution as well as Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution," he wrote.
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