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Court addresses fine line between traffic stop, arrest

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a man’s drunk driving and marijuana possession convictions based on police officer conduct, finding that the officer shouldn’t have held a gun and handcuffed him during what could have been a legitimate traffic stop.

A unanimous three-judge panel ruled today in Daniel C. Reinhart v. State of Indiana, No. 57A03-1002-CR-84, which comes from Noble Superior Court. Daniel Reinhart was arrested following an August 2008 encounter with police involving a sheriff’s deputy who’d pulled him over in the early morning hours. At one point, Reinhart pulled his jeep into a driveway where the deputy was sitting with his radar gun and began yelling at the officer through the window. Another man was in the vehicle, and the deputy ordered Reinhart to back up after being concerned about his own safety. He then called for backup and followed Reinhart – witnessing him crossing into other traffic lanes.

The deputy pulled Reinhart over, drew his weapon, and ordered Reinhart to exit his vehicle and get on his knees with his hands on the back of his head. The man stayed in that position for about 90 seconds, and then was ordered to lie flat on his stomach for a pat-down search that revealed a glass marijuana pipe and a baggie of marijuana in his pocket. Officers also noticed there was a smell of alcohol coming from Reinhart, and that he had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. They handcuffed and arrested him.

During a bench trial in November 2009, the trial judge overruled Reinhart’s objection about the search and admitted the evidence, resulting in a conviction of felony drunk driving and misdemeanor marijuana possession. But the appellate court disagreed with that result.

Though a valid Terry stop allows for officers to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety, the deputy in this case displayed what the appellate judges considered excessive conduct that converted that Terry stop and allowable activity into what constitutes an arrest requiring probable cause.

“While we are mindful of the significant danger faced by police officers during traffic stops, we must balance the interests of officer safety with the privacy interests protected by the Fourth Amendment in requiring law enforcement to use the least intrusive means necessary to investigate a traffic stop,” Judge Terry Crone wrote, citing Wilson v. State, 745 N.E.2d 789, 792 (Ind. 2001). “Under the facts presented, this was more than a minimal deprivation of Reinhart’s liberty of movement necessary to inform (the deputy’s) suspicion that Reinhart was operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The police officers’ behavior in this case exceeded the scope of a Terry stop and became an arrest without probable cause.”

Because police didn’t have probable cause to search Reinhart, the retrieved marijuana and drug material should not have been admitted, the appellate court ruled.
 

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