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COA: Warrant didn't need to be admitted

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In a case of first impression involving whether an active arrest warrant must be admitted into evidence when the defendant has not challenged the warrant's validity, the Court of Appeals has affirmed an appellant-defendant's conviction of Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana that an officer discovered during a routine traffic stop.

The sole issue on appeal in Josa Williams v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0806-CR-505, was whether the trial court abused its discretion and violated Josa Williams' constitutional rights by admitting evidence of marijuana seized from the appellant's person.

When Williams was stopped for a routine traffic violation Jan. 23, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Demetric Smith discovered there was an outstanding warrant for Williams' arrest. Officer Smith then handcuffed and searched Williams, and discovered a bag of marijuana in Williams' pocket.

On Jan. 24, Williams was charged with Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana. A bench trial was held March 12; the trial court overruled Williams' objection to the introduction of the marijuana, because it was "evidence gained as a result of the allege[d] warrant," according to trial records referenced in the Court of Appeals opinion.

After the trial, Williams filed a motion to suppress evidence of the marijuana. The trial court denied Williams' motion April 18, and found him guilty as charged.

"Williams argues that the State failed to prove that the arrest was lawful and that, as such, evidence of the marijuana produced in the search should not have been admitted. See Best v. State, 817 N.E.2d 685, 689 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004) (holding search of defendant's person impermissible where arrest warrant is invalid at time of search)," Judge Terry Crone wrote.

"Here, Williams never challenged the validity of the warrant, and there was no evidence that the warrant was invalid. However, he argues that the State's failure to place the arrest warrant in evidence amounts to reversible error," Judge Crone added.

In a footnote, it is noted that Officer Smith's testimony at trial regarding the existence of the outstanding warrant was enough for this case.

"We note that the warrant was referenced in detail by cause number in the probable cause affidavit filed with the charging information. ... We also note that the warrant is a public record easily accessible to Williams, and there is no indication of any motion to compel discovery of it," Judge Crone wrote.

The opinion mentions an Indiana Supreme Court case, Guajardo v. State, 496 N.E.2d 1300 (Ind. 1986), that notes "the State was obligated to introduce the search warrant and probable cause affidavit into evidence after [the defendant] challenged the adequacy of the warrant," but this does not apply to outstanding arrest warrants.

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