Court finds police lacked reasonable suspicion for stop and search

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Finding that an Indianapolis police officer didn’t have reasonable suspicion or consent to stop a man acting suspiciously in a gas station parking lot, the Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed two fraud convictions involving the possession of movie DVDs that weren’t yet on the market.

In Michael Woodson v. State of Indiana, No. 49A05-1106-CR-306, the appellate court found that a “hot zone” of drug activity doesn’t alone justify stopping and questioning someone who might be acting suspiciously.

The officer was patrolling an area in Indianapolis in February 2011 when he saw a bicycle parked next to a maroon vehicle in the fast food and gas station parking lot. A man later identified as Michael Woodson existed the car, put on a backpack and began riding in the parking lot. The car left and another police patrol vehicle pulled the car over, while the original patrolling officer approached Woodson and asked him what he was doing. The officer testified that Woodson became loud and belligerent, so the officer immediately handcuffed him for safety reasons and then asked to search the backpack. Woodson consented. Inside, the officer found 34 DVDs marked with titles of movies that he recognized as still being in the theater and not yet on sale. Woodson was arrested and charged with two counts of fraud, and at a Marion County bench trial he was found guilty on both and sentenced to a partially suspended two-year sentence.

On appeal, Woodson argued the trial court had erred by denying his motion to suppress the evidence because the search and seizure wasn’t based on reasonable suspicion as required by the Indiana and U.S. constitutions. The appellate court agreed, finding that the officer didn’t have the necessary reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop and that the initial interaction wasn’t consensual. The court found that because Woodson observed the maroon car being pulled over by another police vehicle and he was immediately handcuffed and not free to leave, his consent to search the backpack wasn’t adequate.

Only the fact that the area of Indianapolis in which Woodson was arrested was considered to be a ‘hot zone’ gave Officer (Christopher) Cooper any kind of suspicion that drug-related or other illegal activity might be afoot,” Judge Mark Bailey wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. “This is not enough to amount to reasonable suspicion, and we therefore cannot conclude under the totality of the circumstances that Officer Cooper’s Terry stop was appropriate under the Fourth Amendment.”

The court reversed Woodson’s convictions, finding that admitting the DVDs into evidence was clearly prejudicial and led to testimony that otherwise would have left the state with otherwise insufficient evidence for a conviction.



Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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