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Judges disagree on search validity

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On remand from the Supreme Court of the United States to reconsider under a recent ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals reaffirmed the forfeiture of a woman's car following the arrest of her son for driving while suspended. One judge dissented because she believes the search of the vehicle was unreasonable in light of the recent ruling.

The case of Virginia Meister v. State of Indiana and Union City, Ind., No. 68A04-0604-CV-196, came back to the Court of Appeals after SCOTUS remanded it for consideration in light of Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. __ 129 S. Ct. 1710 (2009). In Gant, the high court determined the expansive reading given to New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981), by courts over the years was too broad and that Belton should only permit an officer to conduct a vehicle search when an arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of the arrest.

The Court of Appeals originally affirmed the forfeiture of Virginia Meister's car using Belton to support its decision. Meister's son, John Wymer, was arrested while driving her car with a suspended license. A police officer, who knew Wymer's license had been suspended, saw him driving and followed him into a convenience store parking lot. After confirming the license was still suspended, he approached the car and placed Wymer in handcuffs for driving with a suspended license. Wymer wasn't in the car at the time he was arrested. The officer found a hollowed out pen with powdery residue in it in his pocket and searched the car to find a pill bottle, which later tested positive for methamphetamine. Meister's car was seized as a result.

Judges Ezra Friedlander and James Kirsch acknowledged the search of the car wasn't justifiable under permissible Belton rationale, as clarified by Gant, but affirmed the search based on other reasoning. The majority concluded that an exception under Gant, as found in United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 820-821, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982), applies in the instant case. A search falls under the automobile exception when the vehicle is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband or evidence of a crime, wrote Judge Friedlander. The officer had probable cause to believe a search of Wymer's car would uncover contraband or evidence of a crime because the officer knew of Wymer's drug past and had previously found drugs on him or in his car. In addition, the car he was driving when he was arrested was clearly operational, so it was readily mobile. Therefore, there's no violation of the Fourth Amendment, wrote the judge.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented because the appellate court was supposed to examine the case in light of Gant, and neither the possibility of access nor the likelihood of discovering offense-related evidence authorized the search. At the point the officer found the pen on Wymer, he didn't place him under arrest for possession of illegal substances nor did he field test the residue; another officer later did that. Wymer was secured prior to the search of his car and was not within reaching distance of its interior, she wrote.

"Wymer was arrested for driving with a suspended license - an offense for which the officers could not expect to find evidence in the vehicle," she wrote. "Because the officers could not reasonably have believed either that Wymer could have accessed his car at the time of the search or that evidence of the offense for which he was arrested might have been found therein, the search in this case, pursuant to Gant's directives, was unreasonable."

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  1. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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