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COA: Consent prevented constitutional violations

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of two defendants' motion to suppress evidence even though it wasn't reasonable under the Indiana Constitution because one of the men gave his consent to search the bag which held drugs.

In Canon Harper and Adrian Porch v. State of Indiana, No. 10A01-0908-CR-417, Canon Harper and Adrian Porch brought an interlocutory appeal of the denial of their motion to suppress drug and paraphernalia evidence seized during a traffic stop

Police noticed the license plate light was out on Harper's car and went to pull the car over. Before doing so, Harper and Porch pulled into a motel, Porch got out of the car with a bag and headed toward a room. The police pulled up behind Harper's car without activating their lights and asked Porch to come back. They explained that Harper's license plate light was out and then asked Porch if they could pat him down and search the bag. Porch claimed the bag belonged to an ex-girlfriend of Harper and consented to the pat down and search of the bag, which had cocaine and paraphernalia in it.

The appellate court found the stop and search didn't violate the Fourth Amendment after applying Tawdul v. State, 720 N.E.2d 1211, 1217 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999). It wasn't unreasonable for the officers to briefly detain Porch after they legally stopped Harper's car until the officers could make an assessment of the situation. Porch's detention was justified because it wasn't unreasonably long or intrusive, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

Harper and Porch claimed that the traffic stop had been completed after they confirmed the license plate light was out and there was no need for the pat-down search and search of the bag.

"Nevertheless, because Porch consented to the search of his person and to the search of the duffle bag, insofar as they complain that the search was unreasonable, they cannot prevail, as it is well established that consent is a valid exception to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment," she wrote.

Porch's consent also justified the search under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Even though based on the totality of the circumstances, the state failed to show the pat down and search was reasonable but Porch verbally assented to the pat down and search of the bag. An exception to the search-warrant requirement happens when consent is given to the search, under the theory that when someone gives permission to a search of either his person or property, any governmental intrusion is presumed to be reasonable.

The appellate court also declined to extend the language of the Seatbelt Enforcement Act to the part of Indiana Code that requires the illumination of license plates in light of State v. Washington, 898 N.E.2d 1200, 1207 (Ind. 2008).

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