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COA reverses dismissal of drug charges

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A trial court erred when it sua sponte decided to exclude evidence from a warrantless search of a defendant's car and dismiss the drug charges against him as a result of that search, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In State of Indiana v. James S. Hobbs IV, No. 19A01-0904-CR-187, the state asked the appellate court to overturn the Dubois Superior Court's decision that dismissed James Hobbs' charges of possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia as Class A misdemeanors.

Police served a felony warrant on Hobbs while he was at work. Prior to serving the warrant, police saw him leave the restaurant he worked at, put something in his car, and go back inside. Hobbs refused permission to search his car, so a narcotics detection dog sniffed the outside of it. The dog smelled an illegal narcotic and inside the car police found a cooler that contained scales, rolling papers, and marijuana.

After the trial court dismissed the charges, the state filed a motion to correct error and a change of judge; those motions were denied.

The Court of Appeals analyzed the search under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Under the federal constitution, police don't have to have a search warrant before they search a car they have probable cause to believe contains illegal drugs. A canine sweep of the outside of a car doesn't intrude upon the privacy interest under the Fourth Amendment, so probable cause isn't required to use a narcotics detection dog, wrote Judge James Kirsch.

"The narcotics detection dog's alert, on the exterior of Hobbs' vehicle, to the presence of contraband supplied the probable cause necessary for further police investigation of the contents of Hobbs' vehicle. Accordingly, the warrantless search of Hobbs' vehicle does not appear to have contravened the Fourth Amendment as interpreted by our Supreme Court," he wrote.

The appellate court relied on Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359 (Ind. 2005), Brown v. State, 653 N.E.2d 77 (Ind. 1995), and Myers v. State, 839 N.E.2d 1146, 1152 (Ind. 2005), when analyzing the search under the state's constitution. Based on those cases, the Court of Appeals concluded the warrantless search didn't violate Article 1, Section 11. The alert by the narcotics detection dog had provided a significant "degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that a violation had occurred," wrote Judge Kirsch quoting from Litchfield. The judges also determined the three factors of Litchfield were satisfied in the instant case.

"We conclude, after application of the Litchfield factors, that the present case is more similar to Myers, where the warrantless search was upheld, than it is to Brown, where the search was found to be in violation of the Indiana Constitution. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it determined, sua sponte, that the warrantless search violated the Indiana Constitution," Judge Kirsch wrote.

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  1. Oh, the name calling was not name calling, it was merely social commentary making this point, which is on the minds of many, as an aside to the article's focus: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100111082327AAmlmMa Or, if you prefer a local angle, I give you exhibit A in that analysis of viva la difference: http://fox59.com/2015/03/16/moed-appears-on-house-floor-says-hes-not-resigning/

  2. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  3. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  4. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  5. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

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