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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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