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Man's detainment by officer violated 4th Amendment

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Conservation officers checking to see if a fisherman had a valid license did not have reasonable suspicion to detain the man and ask to see what was inside his bag after verifying his license, the Indiana Court of Appeals held.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers John Neargardner, who was in uniform, and Levi Clark were on boat patrol when they saw Stephen Alter fishing with a woman and a juvenile. They decided to see if Alter had a valid fishing license and was in compliance with state law regarding bag limits and size limits with fish. On their way to Alter’s location, Neargardner saw Alter pick up something small and put it in his bag.

When they got to Alter, they determined his fishing license was valid. While still in possession of the license, Neargardner asked if Alter had anything in his bag, to which Alter replied fishing gear. Alter let Neargardner look into the bag. Neargardner noticed a small bag inside, and he asked what was in it. Alter said “fishing gear” and asked why the officer wanted him to open the smaller bag.

Neargardner suspected it was something illegal like marijuana. Turns out, Alter had the drug in his bag, which he produced after the officer told him to “give me your marijuana.”

Alter was charged with Class D felonies possession of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance. He filed a motion to suppress, which the trial court granted.

The state claimed Neargardner’s actions didn’t constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment or Indiana Constitution, that he saw suspicious behavior and asking someone to hand over any contraband isn’t a search or seizure.

Addressing only the Fourth Amendment claim, the judges held that the circumstances in this case would lead them to agree with the trial court that a reasonable person in Alter’s position wouldn’t feel free to leave or resist Neargardner’s directives. Alter was being detained for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, so the officers needed to have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity had happened or was about to happen, wrote Judge Elaine Brown in State of Indiana v. Stephen Alter, No. 85A04-1101-CR-44.

Neargardner testified that he had a “gut feeling” that the bag had marijuana in it, and he suspected that based on Alter’s hesitancy to voluntarily reveal the contents of the smaller bag.

“Reasonable suspicion requires more than mere hunches or unparticularized suspicions, and an officer must be able to point to specific facts giving rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” wrote the judge.

The appellate court affirmed the grant of motion to suppress and also found that Indiana Code 14-22-39-3 does not allow conservation officers to detain or seize Alter in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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