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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues