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Judges disagree in police entry case

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An Indiana Court of Appeals judge dissented from his colleagues' decision denying a man's motion to suppress evidence because he didn't believe the police officers were justified in kicking down the man's door and entering his apartment.

In his dissent in Luis E. Duran v. State of Indiana,  No. 45A03-0811-CR-569, Judge Carr Darden cited the fact the police were trying to serve a routine arrest warrant for Nelson Hernandez for a charge of auto theft and the officers' testimony about how they came to Luis Duran's apartment instead and their actions inside as reasons for why he would grant Duran's motion to suppress evidence.

A bystander in an apartment complex told police that Hernandez lived on the second floor of the building and had a green door. That apartment actually belonged to Duran; Hernandez was staying in a different apartment on the second floor. Police knew Hernandez had been recently injured and on crutches.

The police knocked on the green-door apartment, to which Duran responded, "Hold on a minute" after police identified themselves. After hearing some rustling and then silence, the police kicked down the door and found Duran alone in the apartment with a bag of cocaine on the window sill. He was charged with Class A felony dealing in cocaine and Class C felony possession of cocaine; the trial court denied his motion to suppress.

Duran argued on appeal the entry into his apartment violated the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

The majority examined caselaw, including Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 576 (1980), and Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 212, 215-16 (1981), and the Circuit courts' interpretations of the holdings to conclude that the police needed reasonable belief that Hernandez resided at the green-door apartment and that Hernandez was at the apartment at the time of entry.

The majority found the officers' reliance on the testimony from the bystander to be reasonable because one of the officers could corroborate part of the bystander's story, the green door was important because the apartment lacked identifying numbers or mailboxes, and the man didn't want to be identified because he didn't want to be "in trouble with" Hernandez. The officers also believed Hernandez to be in the apartment because they knew he was immobile because of an injury and the long delay in answering the door.

Judges Margret Robb and L. Mark Bailey ruled the officers didn't violate Duran's Fourth Amendment rights or his rights under Article I, Section 11 because the Litchfield factors, in their totality, favor a finding the officers' conduct was reasonable.

Judge Darden relied heavily on the conflicting testimony of the arresting officers surrounding the entry of the apartment for why he would grant the motion to suppress.

"I appreciate the majority's careful attention to precedent in reaching the result it has. However, I am deeply troubled by testimony indicating that police officers believe that when the resident of a dwelling does not open a door, after having simply heard the announcement that 'police' are outside, the officers may kick in that door to gain entry," he wrote.

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