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Majority reverses teen’s underage drinking adjudication

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The Indiana Court of Appeals wanted to make a point “loud and clear” Tuesday: Suspicion of criminal activity is not an exception to the warrant requirement. The majority reversed a teen’s adjudication as a delinquent based on acts of illegal possession of alcohol, illegal consumption of alcohol, and aiding illegal consumption of alcohol.

Police received reports of teens riding around in a shopping cart at 1 a.m. being loud and causing dogs to bark. Police saw a shopping cart in a truck parked in front of J.K.’s house. The truck belonged to T.T. Believing the cart to be stolen, the officers called for a tow truck. While waiting for the truck, officers went around the house to make sure no one would flee. Inside, officers saw empty alcohol containers. Police knocked on the front door for nearly an hour until T.T. came out. He only came out because he saw the tow truck. J.K. also came outside at that point; both appeared intoxicated. The officers then went inside and did a sweep of the house and found additional evidence of underage drinking.

J.K. argued that evidence was admitted at his fact-finding hearing in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The COA addressed three warrantless entries: entry onto J.K.’s curtilage by two officers; the nearly hour-long span during which the officers remained on J.K.’s front porch and yard, knocking and yelling into the house; and the officers’ entry into J.K.’s residence.

The state argued the officers’ warrantless entries onto J.K.’s curtilage and into his home were justified by exigent circumstances – to make sure suspects didn’t flee. But the officers didn’t see anyone fleeing from the back of the house. As such, the evidence obtained as a result of the violation – the sight of empty alcohol containers – and any suspicion resulting from that evidence is tainted and subject to the exclusionary rule, Judge Margret Robb wrote for the majority.

The knock-and-talk was an unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The officers’ actions in this case extended well beyond the implied invitation to approach a citizen’s front door, the majority held. The officers had no reason to believe someone inside was injured or in danger. Underage drinking is not a circumstance that as a general matter creates a threat of imminent injury. The majority also rejected the state’s claim the officers’ conduct was justified because they believed the shopping cart in the truck was stolen.

“There is no doubt that the officers’ conduct in this case went far beyond anything that would ordinarily be expected to occur on one’s doorstep. If three men with guns and flashlights were to surround the average person’s home in the wee hours of the morning, knock for over forty-five minutes, and yell inside demanding the occupants open the door, this situation would … inspire that homeowner to call the police,” Robb wrote in J.K. v. State of Indiana, 66A03-1306-JS-220.

Senior Judge Randall T. Shepard dissented, believing it was reasonable for the officers to wait for the tow truck to arrive. He also found it reasonable for the officers to arrest J.K. and T.T. once they stepped outside and appeared to be under the influence.

“The trial judge concluded that the officers, having seen T.T. and J.K. in this state, were warranted in entering the home to assure the safety of the other occupants. It seemed highly likely there were other occupants in light of the large number of cars parked out front, and we read almost daily about the sad consequences of teenage drinking parties,” he wrote.

 

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  1. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

  2. I have met some highly placed bureaucrats who vehemently disagree, Mr. Smith. This is not your father's time in America. Some ideas are just too politically incorrect too allow spoken, says those who watch over us for the good of their concept of order.

  3. Lets talk about this without forgetting that Lawyers, too, have FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND ASSOCIATION

  4. Baer filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit on April 30 2015. When will this be decided? How many more appeals does this guy have? Unbelievable this is dragging on like this.

  5. They ruled there is no absolute right to keep a license, whether it be for a lifetime or a short period of time. So with that being said, this state taught me at the age of 15 how to obtain that license. I am actually doing something that I was taught to do, I'm not breaking the law breaking the rules and according to the Interstate Compact the National Interstate Compact...driving while suspended is a minor offense. So, do with that what you will..Indiana sucks when it comes to the driving laws, they really and truly need to reevaluate their priorities and honestly put the good of the community first... I mean, what's more important the pedophile drug dealer or wasting time and money to keep us off the streets?

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