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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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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