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Judges reverse marijuana conviction

May 3, 2012

The search of the car driven by a defendant violated the Fourth Amendment, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, so the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence obtained through an inventory search of the car.

In Meschach Berry v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1109-CR-474, Meschach Berry drove a relative’s car to a car wash to pick up his last paycheck from the company. When he learned the paycheck wasn’t available, he parked his car at the company’s entrance and blocked traffic. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police responded to a call and told Berry to move the car. He moved it to the self-service vacuum bay area.
 
After discovering Berry had a suspended license, police asked if the car was insured so someone could drive it home. Berry was unsure, so police decided to tow the car and proceeded to conduct an inventory search of the car. Police found marijuana and a digital scale inside. The police did not create formal inventory sheets detailing Berry’s personal effects. He was charged with and convicted of possession of marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor.

Berry made several arguments on appeal as to why the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress and admitting the evidence, but the COA only agreed with his argument that the state didn’t prove that the decision to impound the car was consistent with standard procedures followed by the IMPD. The record lacks any evidence of IMPD policy on impoundment, so the judges were unable to say whether the decision to impound the car was in keeping with such policy.

The judges reversed Berry’s drug conviction.  

 

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