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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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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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