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In first impression ruling, COA reverses trial court on illegal search

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a police officer went one step too far when he opened a pill bottle he found in a man’s pocket.

In Justin M. Corwin v. State of Indiana, No. 79A04-1005-CR-296, Justin Corwin appealed his arrest for Class C felony possession of a controlled substance, claiming that police officer Kevin Flynn conducted an illegal search.

Flynn was looking for Kyle Balser, who had an active arrest warrant, on June 25, 2009. In the apartment complex where he believed Balser to be, he saw Corwin from a distance of 50 yards and believed he might be Balser.

Flynn observed Corwin acting suspiciously, and eventually climbing into the back seat of a van. The officer approached the van, and Corwin ignored repeated requests to give his name or exit the van, placing his hands in his pockets. He eventually got out, and Flynn did a pat-down search for weapons. He noticed Corwin’s clothes smelled of burnt marijuana, and he found a folding knife and a wallet during the search. The identification in the wallet indicated the man was not Balser.

When Flynn felt a circular object in Corwin’s pants pocket, he asked what it was, but Corwin didn’t respond. Flynn removed the bottle, opened it and found generic Xanax pills, for which Corwin did not have a prescription. He then arrested Corwin.

A police officer may briefly detain a person for investigatory purposes without a warrant if, based on specific and articulable facts, the officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity “may be afoot.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968). But in this case, the COA held that no evidence existed to suggest Flynn knew or suspected Corwin had a history of drug crimes.

The state argued that the pill bottle’s illicit nature was immediately apparent, as the prescription label had been altered, but the trial court records do not indicate whether Flynn noticed that before or after he opened the bottle.   

The COA held that when the officer opened the pill bottle to determine the contents, he ran afoul of the limits of a Terry stop, and therefore the pills found in the bottle, and all evidence of their discovery, should have been suppressed. Accordingly, the COA reversed the trial court.

 

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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