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Justices split in traffic-stop decision

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The Indiana Supreme Court justices were split in their decision issued Dec. 31 on whether a defendant's state and federal constitutional rights were violated when police questioned him about weapons and drugs after he was pulled over for a traffic violation.

The majority ruled in State of Indiana v. Raymond Washington, Jr., No. 02S03-0804-CR-191, that Raymond Washington's Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution rights weren't violated when police discovered marijuana on him after he was stopped. Police saw Washington riding a moped that crossed the centerline and he was not wearing a helmet or goggles, which is required for riders younger than 18. The officer thought Washington was underage and pulled him over. After he discovered he was over 18, he asked whether Washington had any guns, drugs, or anything that could harm the officer. Washington admitted he had marijuana.

At trial, Washington filed a motion to suppress, claiming violations of the Fourth Amendment and Section 1, Article 11 of the Indiana Constitution. The trial court granted the motion, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

The majority overturned the trial court, finding the officer's conduct didn't violate the federal or state constitutions. The issue of whether police questions unrelated to the initial reason for a detention may constitute an unlawful seizure hasn't been specifically addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Citing cases from the U.S. Supreme Court and various Circuit courts, Indiana's justices found the brief questioning of Washington as to whether he had any drugs, weapons, or anything that could harm the officer wasn't itself a search and seizure and wasn't prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. The officer's question didn't cause an excessive delay, and Washington wasn't obligated to answer the questions.

Applying the Litchfield factors to the instant case, the majority found the officer had a reasonable basis for stopping Washington, the degree of police intrusion was slight, and the officer's conduct in making the stop was appropriate to enforce traffic laws. In addition, the question about drugs and weapons was consistent with the officer's concern for his safety and his responsibility to deter crime, intercept criminal activity, and arrest perpetrators, wrote Justice Dickson. As a result, Washington's rights under the Indiana Constitution weren't violated.

Justices Theodore Boehm and Robert Rucker dissented in separate opinions. Justice Boehm didn't concur with the majority's Fourth Amendment analysis but agreed that the amendment doesn't bar brief questioning of a person subjected to a Terry stop. However, he wrote the Indiana Constitution requires reasonable suspicion of a separate offense before an officer conducting a traffic stop can broaden the questioning to other subjects beyond those dealing with the traffic stop and officer safety.

Justice Rucker dissented from the majority finding Washington's rights were violated under the federal and state constitutions. A police officer asking a stopped motorist about the presence of drugs with no basis whatsoever to believe they are present, is patently unreasonable, he wrote. Also, once the officer realized Washington was over 18, his traffic stop was done; just because someone is nervous, it doesn't alone constitute reasonable suspicion, he wrote.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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