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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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