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Court rejects stale trash evidence argument

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has rejected an argument that evidence found in a trash search was stale because no other garbage had been collected in the past two weeks and that seized material could have been too old.

In the case of Donald T. Shell v. State of Indiana, No. 48A02-0904-CR-325, an appellate panel delved into a man’s felony convictions for drug possession in Madison County that resulted in an 18-year sentence. The appeals judges affirmed the ruling by Madison Superior Judge Dennis Carroll, which admitted evidence from the police search warrant investigation of Donald T. Shell’s home and denied Shell’s request for disclosure of a confidential informant’s identity.

Anderson police investigated Shell in summer 2008 after a confidential informant told police that Shell was selling cocaine and marijuana while living at his girlfriend’s home. Police couldn’t initially search the trash because none was placed outside for two weeks, but in the third week garbage was placed in front of the residence on the night before the scheduled trash collection. Inside two trash bags, police found plant materials and stems that tested positive for marijuana, and several plastic baggies with white residue tested positive for cocaine. Police obtained a search warrant for the residence, and found drugs, paraphernalia, and cash hidden inside.

Shell was charged with six felonies and later filed a motion to suppress the seized evidence, claiming the search warrant was based on evidence found during an improper trash pull. The trial judge denied Shell’s motion and other claims, and overruled his objections at trial where he was found guilty on five of the felony counts. He received a concurrent sentence totaling 18 years.

On appeal, Shell raised the claim about the stale trash evidence that meant the residential search warrant was invalid and the evidence should have been tossed.

“Although the age of the information supporting an application for a warrant can be a critical factor when determining the existence of probable cause, our courts have not established a bright-line rule regarding the amount of time that may elapse between obtaining the facts upon which the search warrant is based and the issue of the warrant,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote. “Shell argues that because no trash had been put out for collection in the two weeks prior to the trash search, the evidence found in the trash search was also stale because it could have been placed in the trash in the two weeks before the search. Shell cites no authority for this novel proposition, and we reject it.”

Using guidance outlined in the landmark decision State v. Litchfield, 824 N.E.2d 356, 363 (Ind. 2005), the appellate panel concluded the trash search was supported by the necessary “articulable individualized suspicion” and that the obtained evidence was admissible. The appellate court also affirmed Judge Carroll’s other findings and the sentence imposed.
 

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