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Judges split over Fourth Amendment violation

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Two of the three judges on an Indiana Court of Appeals panel affirmed the suppression of marijuana and a pipe found on a man during a traffic stop, with the dissenting judge believing there was no infringement on the man’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Huntingburg police officer Andrew Hammock pulled over Michael Cunningham’s car because one of the two tail lamps was white – instead of red – because the red lens covering was missing. Cunningham asked to get out of his vehicle to see the tail lamp for himself, to which Hammock said he would pat him down for any weapons for officer safety. Cunningham said that was fine and got out of the car. A pat down yielded a pill bottle, which Cunningham admitted had marijuana in it. He told the officer he had a pipe in his car.

Cunningham was charged with Class A misdemeanors possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. He filed a motion to suppress the marijuana and pipe, which the trial court granted based on its finding that the initial traffic stop was illegal.

The Indiana Court of Appeals judges agreed in State of Indiana v. Michael E. Cunningham, 19A05-1310-CR-489, that the initial traffic stop was not illegal, as law requires vehicles like Cunningham’s to have two red-lighted tail lamps. But the court split on whether the search violated Cunningham’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The majority noted there was no evidence that Cunningham was hostile or threatening when he asked to get out of the car.

“We conclude that Officer Hammock clearly did not ask Cunningham for permission to conduct a pat-down search. Instead, Officer Hammock’s testimony demonstrates that he gave an ultimatum to Cunningham: if he decided to exit the vehicle to inspect the tail lamp, ‘I would pat him down for any weapons just for officer safety issue,’” Judge Michael Barnes wrote. “Phrased in this way, Cunningham had no choice but to submit to the pat-down when he exited the vehicle, despite the absence of reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous.”

But the circumstances didn’t necessitate Cunningham exiting his vehicle, Judge Elaine Brown wrote in her dissent, so he did so with full knowledge that if he did leave his car, he would be subject to a pat down search. He agreed and even told the officer he had marijuana in the pill bottle, handed it to Hammock, and informed him about the pipe in the car. Under these circumstances, she wrote there is no violation of the Fourth Amendment.
 

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  1. I can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

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  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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