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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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