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Court: Police shouldn't have made traffic stop

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An appellate decision today in a drunk-driving traffic stop case out of Fort Wayne illustrates how a lack of knowledge about a particular road’s layout can derail the prosecution of someone who may have been intoxicated behind the wheel.

The ruling comes in State of Indiana v. James H. Sitts, No. 02A03-1001-CR-34, which comes from Allen Superior Court and involves a traffic stop for suspected drunk driving in June 2008.

Officer Dennis McCann received a report about an apparent drunk driver traveling northbound on a main artery in Fort Wayne. After responding to that area he began following a southbound pickup truck that could have been the one at issue. Witnessing the vehicle cross out of the lane of traffic into another one, the officer stopped the truck and witnessed signs that Sitts was intoxicated. McCann arrested Sitts for misdemeanor drunk driving and an infraction for crossing the centerline. The local prosecution pressed that “driving left center” infraction, but the trial judge suppressed the evidence after finding the police shouldn’t have made the traffic stop based largely on the observation that the driver “weaved across the center line” once.

The state Attorney General’s Office appealed and argued the lower court was wrong because the driver had in fact crossed the centerline into the opposite lane of travel and that meant McCann had reasonable suspicion to stop Sitts based on the minor traffic violation alone.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals today affirmed the Allen Superior Court’s ruling because there was a simple problem with the state’s arguments: appellee-defendant James Sitts didn’t cross a centerline into opposing traffic, but rather he crossed the line into a lane going in the same direction.

“Sitts did not cross into the opposite lane of travel as the State asserts,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote, applying the facts to the traffic code provision detailed in Indiana Code 9-21-8-2(a). “Thus, we conclude that Officer (Dennis) McCann mistakenly believed that Sitts violated the statute.”

The judges also addressed how McCann didn’t substantiate any part of the report he’d received from dispatch, agreeing with the local judge that relying on that for the stop was unfounded based on Washington v. State, 740 N.E.2d 1241, 1246 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). Even though police can stop drivers for swerving back and forth between lanes, that didn’t happen here and the officer only observed Sitts crossing into the other lane once.
 

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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