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Divided COA: Pat-down search did not violate rights

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A divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a man’s felony and misdemeanor drug and firearm charges after finding the officer who arrested the man did not violate his constitutional rights by stopping him or conducting a pat-down search.

In Louis Bell v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1606-CR-1390, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Justin Gough observed a man, later identified as Louis Bell, riding a bicycle at 1 a.m. and trailing another bike by holding its handlebars. Gough said Bell appeared to be scanning the area to see if someone was watching him.

State law requires bikes operated at night to have a red rear light and white front light, but Bell’s bike did not have the appropriate lighting. Thus, when Bell came near the parked police vehicle, Gough asked if he could talk to him, and Bell rode his bike over to the officer.

Though Bell claimed he was not in possession of anything illegal and a search of his name did not yield any warrants, Gough said Bell’s heart was beating extremely fast and he continued to scan the area as he talked to Gough.  Gough observed a bulge in Bell’s front pocket, and when Bell refused to answer questions about the bulge, the officer conducted a pat-down search and discovered it was a gun.

Bell admitted he did not have a permit to carry the gun, so Gough arrested him and conducted a search incident to arrest. That search led to the discovery of baggies containing substances that Gough believed were cocaine and heroin, a glass pipe and two burnt marijuana cigars.

Bell was charged with various felony and misdemeanor drug and firearm charges, but he filed a motion to suppress the fruits of Gough’s search, arguing the pat-down violated his constitutional rights because his encounter with Gough was non-consensual. The Marion Superior Court denied the motion, and Bell was found guilty as charged.

A majority of a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Bell’s convictions, with Judge Melissa May writing that because Bell was riding a bike in the middle of the night that did not have the required lights, Gough had reasonable suspicion to detain him for a traffic violation.

Further, May wrote for the majority joined by Judge James Kirsch that the pat-down search was permissible under the Fourth Amendment because Bell was behaving nervously and refused to answer questions about the bulge in his pocket, causing Gough to be concerned for his own and the public’s safety. Similarly, Bell’s Article 1 Section 11 rights were not violated because, under Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359, the degree of suspicion and law enforcement needs were high, while the intrusion into Bell’s privacy was low, the majority held.

However, dissenting Judge Margret Robb wrote she would hold the pat-down search did violate Bell’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Specifically, Robb wrote she did not believe Gough’s description of Bell’s behavior and his refusal to answer Gough’s question could support reasonable suspicion that he posed a danger. Further, Gough never actually described the bulge in Bell’s pocket, so he did not establish a reasonable belief that Bell was hiding a weapon, she said. Thus, after he learned Bell had no outstanding warrants, Gough should have written a traffic citation and let Bell go on his way, she said.

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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