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COA: Statements not made in illegal detention

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a defendant's motion to suppress statements given to authorities while detained, finding he was legally detained because police already had probable cause to arrest him.

In Alton Moss v. State of Indiana, No. 27A04-0805-CR-257, Alton Moss was charged with felony murder and conspiracy to commit robbery while armed with a deadly weapon following the murder of Jamie Smith at his home in Grant County. A witness mentioned Moss' name as a person inside the home at the time of the murder. Months later, a Grant County inmate told police Moss confessed to killing Smith while attempting to rob him of marijuana, and the grandfather of one of Moss' children told police Moss had made incriminating statements about the Smith killing.

After Moss' fiancee told police Moss had told her he and his brother tried to steal drugs from a man, who was shot, police arrested Moss on an outstanding body attachment from a civil case in Howard County. Police didn't tell Moss or his fiancee that there was also a body attachment in a different matter on Moss in Grant County. Police told the fiancee she couldn't post bond in the Howard County matter. Afterwards, Moss signed a waiver of his Miranda rights and gave his version of what happened at Smith's home.

After he was charged, Moss filed a motion to suppress his statements, arguing they were given during an illegal detention, he gave them involuntarily, and Miranda violations made them inadmissible. The trial court denied the motion, but granted his order for interlocutory appeal only on the grounds of the legality of his detention.

The Court of Appeals found some merit in Moss' argument that he was illegally detained because his fiancee tried to post bond before he was questioned but wasn't able to, and that neither of them were aware of the Grant County body attachment and bond until after he was interrogated. The detective who told Moss' fiancee she couldn't post bond was misleading, but the fiancee never questioned why she couldn't post bond nor did she try to post it elsewhere, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. Plus, there's no evidence Moss invoked his right to offer bail.

"In any event, we need not determine the legality of Moss' detention vis-a-vis the two body attachments and bonds, because we agree with the State that the police had an independent basis on which to hold Moss: probable cause to arrest Moss for his involvement in the crimes against Smith," she wrote.

The police had probable cause based on the testimony of several people linking Moss to the crime even before Moss gave his statements while detained.

The appellate court remanded the cause to the trial court for further proceedings and noted that if he is convicted, he could raise his other two issues on appeal.

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  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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