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COA: Gun test-firing not an unlawful search

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Routine test-firing of handguns that police have in their custody isn't a violation of a person's Fourth Amendment rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

Deciding a case of first impression in Dannie Engram v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0801-CR-105, the appellate panel unanimously affirmed a ruling from a Marion Superior judge on the appellant-defendant's convictions for murder and aggravated battery. Engram was arrested after a 2004 traffic stop when police found he was driving with a suspended license, and police took his licensed .45 caliber handgun. Police test-fired the weapon according to department policy and recorded the results in a national ballistics database.

Two years later, those ballistics results showed the weapon was used in a June 2006 street shooting where Engram was identified as a possible suspect; he was arrested and charged. The trial court allowed the ballistics results to be used as evidence, and Engram objected. A jury found him guilty of murder and aggravated battery, for which he was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

On appeal, Engram argued that the results of the 2004 ballistics test should have been suppressed because the test was performed without probable cause, a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights protecting him from unlawful searches. He contended the test-firing "constituted a search which exceeded the scope of any inventory or care taking purpose."

The court questioned whether Engram expressed any expectation of privacy and, if so, whether that expectation can be viewed as reasonable. The appellate judges decided against Engram in both questions. The court determined that the test-firing didn't reveal any private information but provided an additional means to identify his weapon apart from the serial number.

"Engram has not shown that the markings made by his firearm on bullets and casings constitutes a privacy interest that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable," Judge Edward Najam wrote. "Given the dangers of firearms when improperly used and the connection between firearms and violent crime, we cannot conclude that society is willing to recognize a privacy interest in the markings made by firearms on bullets and casings."

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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