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COA finds officer had no reason to make woman sit in squad car after stop

August 14, 2014

 A police officer was not justified in requesting that the woman he pulled over for an expired driver’s license sit in his squad car while he decided how to proceed in the matter, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Bartholomew County Sgt. Kriston Weisner pulled over Stephanie Lucas’ car after running her license plate number and finding out her driver’s license was expired. She pulled into a gas station and was smoking a cigarette when the sergeant approached her car. A couple of minutes after he stopped her, Weisner requested Lucas come to his patrol car to “review the information and decide what we are going to do.” She complied and as they spoke about her expired license, he smelled alcohol on her breath. Lucas complied to field tests and a certified chemical breath test, which showed a BAC of 0.10.

She was charged with various drunken driving charges and a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge, and she filed a motion to suppress. She claimed she was subjected to an investigatory detention that exceeded its permissible scope. The trial court denied her motion.

Judge Patricia Riley pointed out that Weisner could not identify one reason related to the initial purpose of the stop for needing Lucas to sit in his patrol vehicle. He even admitted that he could have accomplished his objective at the side of her vehicle. He testified he did not see Lucas speed, improperly change lanes or perform any other erratic driving. He did not smell any alcohol on her until she sat in his car and she didn’t show signs of intoxication.
 
“While there is no bright-line test for evaluating whether an investigatory stop satisfies the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment, an investigative stop must be accomplished using the least intrusive means readily available absent some particular circumstance justifying an additional intrusion,” Riley wrote for the majority that included Judge Margret Robb. “Here, the traffic stop was more intrusive than authorized for a permissible investigatory stop because Sergeant Weisner did not articulate a legitimate reason as to why he could not complete his investigation standing alongside Lucas’ vehicle. As a result, suppressing the evidence obtained after Sergeant Weisner unreasonably moved Lucas to his squad car is necessary as a means of deterring police officers from impinging the guarantees of the Fourth Amendment in the future.

Judge Cale Bradford concurred in result in a separate opinion. He did not believe the sergeant’s request that Lucas sit in his patrol car violated her Fourth Amendment rights, but under the circumstances of this case, Lucas was subjected to an illegal custodian interrogation without first being advised of her rights.

The case is Stephanie Lucas v. State of Indiana, 03A01-1309-CR-389.
 

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