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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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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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