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COA reverses trial court in OWI case

January 30, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court’s grant of a truck driver’s motion to suppress evidence, holding that police did not violate his rights in an unusual traffic stop.

In State of Indiana v. Johnnie S. McCaa, No. 56A04-1107-CR-341, police stopped Johnnie McCaa, the driver of a semitrailer, after receiving reports that he had been driving erratically. But because of a pre-existing crash, when police pulled over McCaa, his truck was blocking the only open lane of traffic.

Newton County Sherriff’s Sgt. Shannon Cothran questioned McCaa about his driving, and McCaa said he had been driving erratically because he spilled a can of soda in his lap. Cothran did not observe any obvious signs of intoxication, but because McCaa was blocking the roadway, Cothran ordered him to drive his truck to a nearby gas station. Cothran and another officer followed him, and saw McCaa drive off the road three times en route to the gas station.

McCaa argued that by asking him to drive to the gas station, police created a situation to enhance probable cause to believe McCaa was intoxicated. At the gas station, while his breath test showed no alcohol in his blood, he failed standard field sobriety tests. Cothran took McCaa to a hospital for urinalysis, the details of which were not included in the appeal.

The COA wrote that due to the fact McCaa was blocking the only open lane of traffic, it was not unreasonable to ask him to move his vehicle, nor was it unsafe, as police followed him. It therefore reversed the trial court’s grant of McCaa’s motion to suppress evidence obtained after the initial stop.

Judge Michael Barnes issued a separate opinion and wrote that he “begrudgingly concurred” with the majority opinion, stating: “No mistake should be made that law enforcement officers could or should allow a person to drive a vehicle, observe the driver, and buttress their probable cause because of these observations. These circumstances are the proverbial ‘once in a lifetime,’ fortunately for police.”

 

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