COA: Traffic stop allowed in private parking lot

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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the denial of man’s motion to suppress, finding Indiana Code doesn’t bar law enforcement from investigating violations in private parking lots even if there isn’t a contractual agreement with the property owner to allow officers to enforce traffic ordinances.

The judges took Donald L. Pruitt v. State of Indiana, No. 55A01-0912-CR-597, on interlocutory appeal, in which Pruitt argued a traffic stop after an officer saw him driving in a bar’s parking lot without his headlights on was invalid because it happened in a private business parking lot. He claimed since there was no contract between the property owner and police as defined in Indiana Code sections 9-21-18-1 to -15, the officer couldn’t him stop him. The officer determined Pruitt’s driving privileges had been suspended. He was charged with operating a motor vehicle after driving privileges had been suspended for life as a Class C felony.

The appellate court disagreed with Pruitt’s reasoning because the code says a local governmental unit and private business property or shopping center owners may contract to allow the unit to regulate parking and traffic.

“We do not read this statute or any other provision of Indiana Code sections 9-21-18-1 to 9-21-18-15 to bar law enforcement officers from investigating violations on private property such as shopping centers in the absence of a contractual agreement with each and every such property,” wrote Senior Judge Patrick Sullivan.

The Court of Appeals also found that I.C. Section 9-30-10-17 isn’t explicitly limited in application to those who drive on public roads. The legislature also chose not to include such limiting language, which indicates that the danger to the public from a habitual traffic offender driving without a license is as great in a private parking lot as it is on public highways, the judge continued.

Pruitt also argued that the code that regulates headlights is only applicable to cars driving on public highways. Although that is the case, the statute doesn’t necessarily imply that a driver is always allowed to drive without headlights on private property, the court concluded.

“Such a reading of the statute would run counter to the policy of facilitating safe automobile traffic. Furthermore, the statute neither states nor implies that an officer is barred from stopping a driver for driving without headlights on private property,” Senior Judge Sullivan wrote.     


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