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Judges: Officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop and detain man

December 1, 2010

Because a man’s detention following a traffic stop wasn’t supported by reasonable suspicion, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his drug conviction today.

Robert Segar believed the trial court abused its discretion by admitting marijuana into evidence that police found on him after an investigatory stop and detention. Police were responding to an anonymous tip that a burglary was in progress and the suspect was a white male in a dark coat or dark shirt. Officer Carl Grigsby saw Segar walking in the middle of the street near where the alleged robbery was happening and stopped him because he fit the description given by the caller.

Segar was cooperative, but placed in handcuffs. Police found out he was wanted for questioning about some burglaries, but he had no active warrants. Another officer conducted a pat-down search before placing him in the police car to take him to the station for questioning on those other robberies. That’s when police found a baggie that was later determined to contain marijuana.

Segar was charged and convicted of Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana over his objections to the admission of the drugs.

After finding that Segar did in fact make a timely objection to the admission of the marijuana, the Court of Appeals concluded in Robert Segar v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1003-CR-269, that the drug shouldn’t have been admitted into evidence. Police were responding to an anonymous tip and were unable to get any more information from the tipster beyond that there was a burglary in progress and the alleged burglar was white and wearing a dark top. The tipster hung up before giving a name.

The officers had little information on which to base a particularized suspicion of Segar, wrote Judge Margret Robb, and there was no way to test the reliability of the information provided by the tipster.

“If the tipster’s assertion of a burglary in progress had been corroborated, there would have been some reason to believe the tipster had inside knowledge potentially linking Segar to the illegality. However, there is nothing in the record to indicate whether a burglary actually happened at 3179 Normandy, let alone whether police verified the report before stopping Segar,” she wrote.

Segar’s actions before and during the stop weren’t suspicious. In addition, the reasonableness of official suspicion must be measured by what officers knew before, not after, conducting an investigatory stop. There was no indication that officers made a connection before Segar was stopped between the present reported burglary and whatever facts warranted his questioning regarding the previous burglaries, wrote Judge Robb.

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