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Justices rule on in-state, out-of-state police actions

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The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld its own law enforcement practices, but leaves those of Alabama's police and judiciary out in the cold.

Justices issued a unanimous decision today in David A. Shotts v. State of Indiana, No. 71S03-0905-CR-253, which comes from St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha's court. The case stems from a felony arrest warrant for Shotts on theft and murder charges in Alabama. An Alabama sheriff's deputy called a St. Joseph County detective about Shotts residing in Mishawaka. The Indiana officer confirmed and verified the active arrest warrant through the National Crime Information Computer, and began the process for preparing an Indiana warrant. Shotts was arrested with a handgun, which police later determined he didn't have a license for. Shotts was charged with misdemeanor possession of an unlicensed firearm and felony possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. During the trial process, Shotts filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence of his handgun possession, arguing that Indiana officers arrested him without "any warrant or legal authority" and the subsequent search was the product of an arrest violating his Fourth Amendment rights and Article 1, §11 of the Indiana Constitution.

The judge denied that motion and convicted him, but the Indiana Court of Appeals in March 2009 reversed that decision and found that Indiana's good-faith exception for police was inapplicable because the Alabama officer who obtained the warrant did so on a facially defective affidavit.

But the state's justices disagreed, upholding the Indiana police practice in this case and finding the evidence for possession of a handgun admissible for this Indiana prosecution.

Justices found little direct authority on the issue about evaluating a receiving state's arrest based on another state's warrant, but they relied in part on the well-settled law for extradition proceedings - that the receiving state is not to review the probable cause determination of the demanding state. Indiana's justices also found that rationale logically follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in Herring v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 695, 698 (2009), which addressed when the exclusionary rule applies on Fourth Amendment claims.

"The trial court found that Indiana officers acted in good-faith reliance on a warrant they reasonably presumed to be valid," Indiana Justice Theodore Boehm wrote for the court. "In sum, Shotts does not identify anything that the Indiana officers did as culpable at all, much less rising to the level of culpable behavior the exclusionary rule seeks to deter. Indeed, letting an armed fugitive remain at large while they attempted to take other steps to review the Alabama proceedings is objectively unreasonable."

On the state constitutional claims, the Indiana justices made similar findings using its own precedent from Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359 (Ind. 2005), which sets the standard for determining a seizure's reasonableness and in some cases provides more protections to individual rights than the Fourth Amendment offers. The state justices declined to address whether Alabama did anything right or wrong in its own execution of the Shotts case and warrant.

"Under the Indiana Constitution, we need not resolve these issues today," Justice Boehm wrote. "If any flaw existed in the Alabama warrants, it was the product of an agency - whether Alabama law enforcement or Alabama judiciary - over which Indiana police have no control."

Justice Frank Sullivan wrote a concurring opinion that pointed out he affirms Shotts' conviction but wouldn't have turned to the SCOTUS ruling in Herring in making a final decision.

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