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COA rules police officer's questions not unconstitutional

March 16, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a man has incorrectly interpreted the Fourth Amendment in his appeal and that no constitutional violation occurred when he allowed a police officer to search his car.

In Chad M. McLain v. State of Indiana, No. 20A05-1109-CR-480, Elkhart County Police Officer Randy Valderrama pulled over Chad McLain when McLain failed to adequately signal before making a turn. Valderrama approached McLain’s car, requested his license and registration, and as he walked back to his patrol car he noticed McLain appear to tense up and look at the center console. Upon running a check on his license, Valderrama saw McLain had two prior “incidences” for possession of marijuana.

Valderrama issued a written warning and told McLain he was free to go. Valderrama then asked McLain if he had anything illegal in his vehicle, saying he was curious because of McLain’s two prior incidences. He asked if he could search the car, and McLain gave him permission. As the two walked toward McLain’s car, McLain admitted he had a marijuana pipe on the seat and a bag of marijuana in the dash console. Valderrama handcuffed McLain and put him in the back of the patrol car and requested assistance from a canine officer.

The canine officer’s dog alerted police to the presence of marijuana, and McLain was placed under arrest.

On appeal, McLain claimed the search of his car was a violation of his state and federal constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure.

“McLain’s argument is based on the faulty premise that the Fourth Amendment was implicated after Officer Valderrama gave him his license, registration, and the warning citation and told him that he was free to leave.” Judge Terry Crone wrote in the COA opinion. “At that point, McLain was in fact free to leave, and he was not required to answer the officer’s questions.”

Concluding McLain clearly and voluntarily consented to the search, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to admit evidence obtained in the search of McLain’s car.

 

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