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Justices rule officer didn't search car to find gun

July 11, 2011

The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld a man’s firearm conviction, finding the police officer who found a handgun in the man’s car during a traffic stop wasn’t searching the car when he saw the gun.

Cedric Lewis appealed his conviction of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and his 12-year sentence. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Romeo Jonson pulled Lewis’ car over after Lewis changed lanes without signaling. Lewis’ license had been suspended, so Jonson thought the car would be towed. He stuck his head in the car through the open driver’s side door to tell the passenger to get out of the car when he saw a handgun wedged between the driver’s seat and the center console.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, but in Cedric Lewis v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-1010-CR-619, the justices agreed with the lower court’s conviction of Lewis. In the five-page opinion, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote that Jonson’s discovery of the gun didn’t constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment or Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Caselaw has held that a search involves an exploratory investigation and opening or looking into areas. There is no search when police look into cars during traffic stops, he wrote. Also, discovering items in plain view is not a search.

Jonson didn’t open any compartments, move any objects, or pull back anything to see the gun, so the officer wasn’t searching the car when he saw the gun.

The justices also upheld Lewis’ sentence, denying the defendant’s request to shorten his sentence.
 

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