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COA overturns drug conviction

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Because there was no evidence presented as to why a defendant was stopped or that the state’s actions were reasonable, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a man’s conviction of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Herbert Yanez was at an Indianapolis flea market when he was stopped by Special Agent Rodriguez with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Unit of the Department of Homeland Security. Rodriguez was part of an investigation looking for illegal immigrants who are gang members and for counterfeit items. After Rodriguez stopped Yanez, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Humerickhouse approached to assist. Yanez consented to a pat-down search, which revealed a baggie of marijuana sticking out of Yanez’s pants pocket.

Yanez sought to suppress the drug based on lack of a constitutional basis for the investigatory stop. The trial court denied the motion and found him guilty.

Addressing only the state constitutional grounds, the Court of Appeals found in Herbert Yanez v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1104-CR-362, that the state presented no evidence of a concern or suspicion that a violation of law had occurred. Rodriguez stopped Yanez, yet the agent did not testify at trial. Humerickhouse was the only witness for the state.

With regards to whether the state presented evidence that the officers’ actions were reasonable, the appellate court split. The majority found the evidence presented failed to establish the reasonableness of the state’s actions, but Judge Michael Barnes disagreed as to this point.

The question arises whether Rodriguez had “seized” Yanez when Humerickhouse approached him. But without Rodriguez’s testimony, the question can’t be answered.

“Although we can speculate that Yanez’s initial encounter with Agent Rodriguez might have been ‘consensual,’ as that word is defined by case law, I believe it was the State’s burden to establish that it was. Without Agent Rodiguez’s testimony, the State failed to meet that burden,” Barnes wrote.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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