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Justices vacate transfer in pot bust case heard in Merrillville

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A divided appellate court ruling upholding a marijuana conviction resulting from a tip that led to a traffic stop will stand after the Indiana Supreme Court vacated transfer.

Four of five justices chose Wednesday to vacate transfer in Phillip T. Billingsley v. State of Indiana, 02S05-1303-CR-160. Justice Robert Rucker dissented from the order vacating transfer and would reverse the trial court.

Billingsley was convicted of Class D felony possession of marijuana after an Allen County bench trial. Fort Wayne police found the pot in Billingsley’s vehicle parked at a VFW post after receiving a tip from a 911 caller. Billingsley appealed, claiming that an officer pulled a gun on him as he sat in the vehicle and he was then placed under arrest. He challenged whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion to initiate an investigatory stop.

A divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Billingsley’s conviction, noting the caller claimed to have been a victim of Billingsley’s criminal activity and a witness to ongoing criminal activity. But Judge James Kirsch argued that nothing known to police or the court allowed for a determination of the veracity of the information the caller provided and that the information was insufficient to satisfy state and federal court standards for investigatory stops.

Oral arguments were heard by about 400 people May 9 at Merrillville High School in an event organized by the Lake County Bar Association.

“Thereafter, we discussed the case in more detail at our weekly conference. After again considering the points raised in the parties’ briefs and the points made by the attorneys at the oral argument in Lake County, it is the view of a majority of the justices that the Court should not assume jurisdiction over this appeal, and that the Court of Appeals opinion be the final decision in this case,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote in the order.

 

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