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Majority: warrantless car search OK under automobile exception

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The Fourth Amendment doesn’t prohibit a warrantless search of an operational car found in a public place if police have probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of a crime, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In State of Indiana v. James S. Hobbs, IV, No. 19S01-1001-CR-10, police went to James Hobbs’ place of work to arrest him on a felony search warrant. Before they could do so, they saw him leave the Pizza Hut where he worked, put something in his car and go back inside. They arrested him in the restaurant. A drug dog was used after Hobbs refused to allow police to search his car. The dog alerted to illegal narcotics and police found marijuana and other paraphernalia.

The trial court ruled the dog’s alert provided probable cause to get a search warrant but since police didn’t get one, the evidence was illegally seized. The state appealed the dismissal of marijuana and paraphernalia possession charges against Hobbs for lack of probable cause. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed because the dog sniff provided probable cause to support the warrantless search.

The justices found the “search incident to arrest” exception didn’t apply, but the “automobile exception” did, allowing officers to search the car without a warrant. Hobbs’ car was operational and in the parking area of the restaurant, so it fell under the automobile exception. The officers’ own observations of Hobbs opening the car and putting something inside gave them probable cause to believe that Hobbs owned whatever was inside the car, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm for the majority.

In addition, it’s well settled that a dog sniff search isn’t protected by the Fourth Amendment. It provided probable cause the car contained evidence of a crime – illegal drugs – so the search didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. It also didn’t violate Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. The police action here was reasonable and there was no disruption of Hobbs’ normal activities. At the time the car was searched, he was already under arrest for a different crime and would remain in custody whether or not the search happened.

Justices Boehm, Brent Dickson, and Chief Justice Randall Shepard voted to reverse the trial court. Justices Frank Sullivan and Robert Rucker dissented because they didn’t find the automobile exception allowed police to search the car without a warrant. Justice Sullivan wrote that he believed the majority interpreted the exception too narrowly.

“… in all of the cases where the automobile exception to the warrant requirement has been held available, the vehicle in question has been not only readily mobile and operational but also in close proximity to the suspect at the time of initial contact with the police,” he wrote. “Defendant’s lack of proximity to the automobile at the time of arrest – he was inside his place of employment and the car was parked outside in the lot – should render the automobile exception unavailable.”
 

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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. 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.

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