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Attenuation doctrine doesn't apply under Indiana Constitution

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The attenuation doctrine has no application under the state’s constitution, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today in a case alleging an unconstitutional search.  

In Charles Adam Trotter v. State of Indiana, No. 29A02-0910-CR-974, the Hamilton Superior Court ultimately concluded that the warrantless entry into a private residence where Charles Trotter was staying was unlawful under the state and federal constitutions, but that evidence of the police officers’ observations is admissible pursuant to the doctrine of attenuation. The judge denied Trotter’s motion to suppress evidence regarding the observations the officers made when, looking for Trotter, they entered a pole barn attached to the residence without a warrant.

The officers were responding to a complaint of gunshots fired. The first officer came upon the residence where he believed the shots were coming from and spoke to Barry Dircks. Dircks said Trotter was inside using the bathroom. The officer saw guns, bullets, and liquor on the picnic table. The officers were unable to get into the home on the property but found an unlocked door on the pole barn. They went inside looking for Trotter and spotted him pointing a rifle at them telling them to get out. After a standoff, he surrendered and was charged with Class D felonies pointing a firearm and criminal recklessness.

On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the officers’ warrantless entry violated both the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. The state argued the officers were trying to enter the buildings to make sure Trotter was OK, but the record doesn’t support the state’s argument. The officers never inquired about Trotter’s well-being nor had any reason to think he was in need of assistance. In addition, the officers’ degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that a violation had occurred was essentially non-existent, wrote Judge Terry Crone.

The judges also rejected the state’s argument that the attenuation doctrine applied in the case. The doctrine allows, in some situations that the causal chain is sufficiently attenuated to dissipate any taint of illegal police activity, for the evidence seized during a search to be admitted. Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has recognized this exception to the exclusionary rule, but the judges found it didn’t apply under the state constitution.

Article I, Section 11 in some cases confers greater protections to individual rights than the Fourth Amendment affords, wrote Judge Crone. Agreeing with the reasoning in Webster v. State, 908 N.E.2d 289, 293 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), the judges held the attenuation doctrine as it currently exists as a separate analysis to circumvent the exclusionary rule for Fourth Amendment purposes has no application under the state constitution.

“We have already determined pursuant to the Litchfield factors that the police officers in this case acted unreasonably under the totality of the circumstances when they entered Trotter’s residence with no warrant, no probable cause, and no exigency,” he wrote. “We further conclude that Trotter’s alleged act of pointing a firearm was a direct response to the police misconduct, and in no way does Trotter’s behavior make the police misconduct any more reasonable.”

Judge Crone noted that even if they were to consider application of the doctrine that it wouldn’t apply in the instant case. The judges reversed the denial of Trotter’s motion to suppress and the grant of the state’s motion to clarify, and remanded for additional proceedings.
 

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