ILNews

COA: Stop lacked reasonable suspicion

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned a defendant's drug conviction because the traffic stop that led to his arrest was unconstitutional; the police officer who pulled the car over didn't have reasonable suspicion there was criminal activity going on in the car.

Damen Holly appealed his conviction of possession of marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor in Damen Holly v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0711-CR-930. Holly was pulled over by a police officer after the officer ran a license plate check of the vehicle Holly was driving. The check revealed the car was registered to a woman named Terry Sumler and her license was suspended.

The police officer was unable to see if Sumler was driving the car, so he pulled it over. Sumler was a passenger in the car and Holly was driving. Holly also had a suspended license.

The officer ordered Sumler, Holly, and another passenger to get out of the car while another police officer searched the vehicle. During the search, the officer discovered marijuana; Holly admitted the drugs were his.

At his trial, Holly moved to suppress the marijuana evidence, arguing officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the car and search it. The trial court denied the motion, and he was convicted.

The trial court abused its discretion in admitting the evidence, ruled the Court of Appeals, and reversed Holly's conviction. The appellate court based its reversal on Wilkinson v. State, 743 N.E.2d 1267 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001), which ruled an officer has to have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot and that the officer's knowledge that a car's owner lacks a valid license, by itself, isn't enough to give the officer reasonable suspicion to stop a car.

"In a case such as this where the officer has observed absolutely nothing that would indicate that the driver of the vehicle is the owner and the officer has no reason to believe that the vehicle is stolen or that a law is otherwise being broken, the officer lacks objective justification for conducting an investigatory stop," wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

As such, the police officer didn't have reasonable suspicion to pull Holly over and search the car. Any evidence collected during the stop - including the marijuana - is inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment, she wrote. The remaining evidence is insufficient to support his conviction, so his conviction is reversed.
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  1. "So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)" Well, you know, we're just following in the footsteps of our founders who raped women, raped slaves, raped children, maimed immigrants, sold children, stole property, broke promises, broke apart families, killed natives... You know, good God fearing down home Christian folk! :/

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  3. Whilst it may be true that Judges and Justices enjoy such freedom of time and effort, it certainly does not hold true for the average working person. To say that one must 1) take a day or a half day off work every 3 months, 2) gather a list of information including recent photographs, and 3) set up a time that is convenient for the local sheriff or other such office to complete the registry is more than a bit near-sighted. This may be procedural, and hence, in the near-sighted minds of the court, not 'punishment,' but it is in fact 'punishment.' The local sheriffs probably feel a little punished too by the overwork. Registries serve to punish the offender whilst simultaneously providing the public at large with a false sense of security. The false sense of security is dangerous to the public who may not exercise due diligence by thinking there are no offenders in their locale. In fact, the registry only informs them of those who have been convicted.

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  5. A common refrain in the comments on this website comes from people who cannot locate attorneys willing put justice over retainers. At the same time the judiciary threatens to make pro bono work mandatory, seemingly noting the same concern. But what happens to attorneys who have the chumptzah to threatened the legal status quo in Indiana? Ask Gary Welch, ask Paul Ogden, ask me. Speak truth to power, suffer horrendously accordingly. No wonder Hoosier attorneys who want to keep in good graces merely chase the dollars ... the powers that be have no concerns as to those who are ever for sale to the highest bidder ... for those even willing to compromise for $$$ never allow either justice or constitutionality to cause them to stand up to injustice or unconstitutionality. And the bad apples in the Hoosier barrel, like this one, just keep rotting.

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