ILNews

COA reverses conviction in trash-search case

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a conviction of possession of marijuana with intent to deal, citing an Indiana Supreme Court case that prohibits introducing evidence at trial that was obtained following a police search of trash. The court also ruled the good faith exception does not apply.

In Ralph Belvedere v. State of Indiana, 48A05-0611-CR-669, Belvedere appealed his conviction of possession of marijuana with intent to deal and maintaining a common nuisance, arguing the Indiana Supreme Court decision in Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356 (Ind. 2005) should be retroactive and apply to his case. Belvedere was arrested after Anderson Detective Kevin Earley, based on a tip, searched Belvedere's trash for evidence of marijuana. After finding seeds, stems, and a small amount of marijuana, Earley requested a search warrant of Belvedere's house. When marijuana was found during the search, he arrested Belvedere.

During his trial, the court denied Belvedere's motion to suppress the evidence police took from his trash that prompted the search warrant. The trial court sentenced Belvedere to six years probation.

Litchfield was decided in March 2005, almost a year after Earley searched Belvedere's trash. Judge Edward Najam wrote in the opinion that Litchfield applies to all cases that were pending on direct review or not yet final at the time Litchfield was decided; Belvedere's case was not yet decided as he was convicted in July 2006. For Earley to conduct a lawful search, he needed to have an "articulable individualized suspicion," but his search was based exclusively on information he received from a source. The information the source had was general information about Belvedere's race, age, and residence, but many people could know that information. Earley's search violated Belvedere's rights under the Indiana Constitution, and all evidence from that search must be suppressed unless an exception to the exclusionary rule can apply, wrote Judge Najam.

If Earley got the evidence from Belvedere's trash out of good faith, then it may be admissible. Any application of the good faith doctrine must take into account the constitutional standards from Litchfield. The majority agreed the good faith exception cannot be applied to this case, and many others, because it would avoid application of a newly announced rule of constitutional law, wrote Judge Najam.

In Indiana, the good faith exception can be applied if the evidence was obtained pursuant to "a state statute, judicial precedent, or court rule that is later declared unconstitutional or otherwise invalidated." Applying the good faith statute to Belvedere would violate his rights under the Indiana Constitution. To apply the good faith statue here would negate the Indiana Supreme Court ruling in Litchfield and require the court to ignore the retroactivity of Litchfield, the judge wrote.

Judge Cale Bradford dissented in a separate opinion, writing he believes the good faith exception applies to this case. The trash search was legal when it was performed, wrote Judge Bradford. He cited Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31 (1979), in which the Supreme Court noted that evidence found at the time a person was arrested after a lawful arrest and search should not be suppressed.
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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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