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. 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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