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Court of Appeals rules that blinking turn signal not enough to support drug conviction

October 19, 2012

Finding that the continuous use of a turn signal without turning does not justify a traffic stop, the Indiana Court of Appeals threw out a conviction for possession of marijuana.

Rodney D. Killebrew II was stopped after he traveled through an intersection with his blinker on but did not make a turn. Kokomo Police Officer Chad VanCamp subsequently stopped Killebrew, searched his car, and found two clear plastic bags of marijuana.

During a bench trial, Killebrew was found guilty of possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor, and sentenced to one year suspended, except for time served. He appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted the evidence discovered when VanCamp pulled him over.

The state countered that the traffic stop was based on a traffic violation and that the officer’s actions fell within the community caretaking function of law enforcement. The COA rejected both arguments and reserved the conviction in Rodney Killebrew II v. State of Indiana, 34A02-1204-CR-303. 

Reviewing state statute, the COA found state law does not prohibit driving with the turn signal on. Since there was no other indication of impairment, VanCamp did not have a reasonable suspicion of lawbreaking to stop Killebrew.  

Writing for the court, Judge Patricia Riley stated, “If we were to hold that an action equally common among unimpaired drivers could justify a traffic stop, that ruling would be ripe for abuse and would not strike a reasonable balance between the government’s legitimate interest in traffic safety and an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”

In rejecting the community caretaking argument, the COA noted VanCamp stopped Killebrew to investigate whether he was an impaired driver. The officer’s search of the car was then an extension of a criminal investigation and not the product of an administrative caretaking function.

Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding that the application of the probable cause and warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment are necessary when investigating criminal conduct, the COA stated it would not extend the community caretaking function to justify a search conducted as a result of a criminal investigation.

 

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