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Justices affirm convictions after toddler found wandering by police

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the admittance of drugs and other evidence obtained by police after searching an apartment following a report of an unattended child. The justices found both parents gave their consent for police to make sure the apartment was fit before returning the child to their care.

Police found an unsupervised toddler wandering half-naked near a pond in an apartment complex. Nick McIlquham approached police and told them he was the father and he had fallen asleep while watching her. Police told McIlquham they need to come back and make sure his apartment was safe for the girl and they would likely call child protection services. McIlquham consented and as they entered the apartment, he quickly headed for the kitchen. The officers saw him put something in his pants, so they conducted a pat down and discovered marijuana. More drugs and paraphernalia were in plain sight.

Police called the girl’s mother, who was the person who signed the apartment lease, and when she arrived home was upset to learn police had found drugs. They told her that CPS would be notified but it was not their decision as to whether the girl would be removed from the home. She consented to a full search of the home, and officers found more drugs and a gun in a bedroom. McIlquham admitted they were his and the girl’s mother did not know about them.

He pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent and marijuana possession charges, and went to trial on firearm, dealing and paraphernalia counts. He sought to suppress the admittance of the evidence found during the searches, claiming he and the mother consented under duress of threats to take the girl into CPS custody. The trial court denied the motion and he was found guilty of the firearm and paraphernalia charges.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, citing the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment, but the justices affirmed on the grounds that McIlquham and the mother validly consented to the searches.

The justices found no coercive words or actions in this case. Justice Loretta Rush noted that McIlquham initially approached police, so the encounter began as consensual and that he was allowed to carry his daughter back to the apartment.

“[W]hen Defendant told police ‘it was okay’ to check the apartment, we find no reason not to take his consent at face value,” she wrote in Nick McIlquham v. State of Indiana, 49S05-1401-CR-28.

“Making a ‘bee line’ to the kitchen, then furtively stuffing unknown objects into his pockets, amply warranted a pat-down for officer safety — and thus to discovery of the scales, cash, and additional marijuana that were in plain view on the counter. It was well within the trial court’s discretion to admit those items into evidence on the basis of consent, so we need not address the “community caretaking” rationale on which the Court of Appeals relied.”

The justices also rejected McIlquham’s claims that the mother was in custody or under duress when she consented to the apartment search. Rush noted that police told her it was up to the Department of Child Services and not police as to whether the girl would be taken into custody by CPS. And the record shows that the mother was eager for police help to find and confiscate anything that would be hazardous to her child.

 

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