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COA splits over whether pat down after traffic stop was justified

July 22, 2014

A majority on the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that a trial court abused its discretion when it denied a man’s motion to suppress drug evidence found on him after police pulled him over for failing to signal a turn. But the dissenting judge believed the arresting officer had sufficient reason to think the defendant might be armed and dangerous during their encounter.

Terre Haute Police Officer Adam Loudermilk pulled over Robert L. Dixon’s vehicle after Dixon turned without signaling. Dixon pulled into a residential neighborhood, parked his car, got out of the car and began to walk away. Loudermilk ordered Dixon back to his car after threatening to use his Taser. After checking Dixon’s license and registration, Loudermilk recognized his name as a possible drug dealer. Loudermilk called for backup and decided to perform a pat-down search of Dixon. The search yielded three baggies of cocaine.

Dixon sought to suppress the drug evidence found on him, claiming the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied his motion.

Judge Patricia Riley and Margret Robb reversed, pointing out that Loudermilk did not have any reason to believe Dixon was engaged in criminal activity at the time he pulled him over, he saw no weapon on Dixon when he was out of the car, and there were no open warrants or issues with Dixon’s identification. A Terry stop does not allow for a generalized cursory search for weapons, or any search for anything but weapons, Riley wrote.

Judge Cale Bradford dissented, pointing out that Loudermilk had credible information that Dixon might be a drug dealer. Dixon also appeared very nervous while sitting in the car, rocking back and forth and sticking his hands in his pockets. Bradford believed that the pat-down of Dixon was justified by concerns for officer safety.

The case, Robert L. Dixon v. State of Indiana, 84A01-1307-CR-339, is remanded for further proceedings.

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