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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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