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Officer safety justified opening ajar car door

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The opening of an ajar car door by a police officer during a foot chase with a suspected robber didn't violate the man's federal or state constitutional rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded today.

In Joshua P. Lindsey v. State of Indiana, No. 29A02-0902-CR-196, the appellate court determined that the exigent circumstance of officer safety justified Officer Charles Kruse's opening wider Joshua Lindsey's car door and visually inspecting the interior to make sure no one else was in the car. Lindsey left the driver's side door slightly ajar.

Kruse saw Lindsey run into a CVS, brandish a weapon, and then quickly leave the store running in the direction of his car. A thorough search of the car wasn't performed until a search warrant was obtained and Lindsey was in custody. He moved to suppress the evidence found in the car, claiming Kruse's actions violated his constitutional rights. The trial court denied his motion.

"Officer Kruse merely opened wider a door that was already ajar to look inside the car based on a reasonable belief that an armed accomplice might be inside. Any expectation of privacy Lindsey had in his car was surely reduced when he parked his car in a public lot with the door ajar and the key in the ignition," wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

The officer's actions were also reasonable under the Indiana Constitution, based on Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359 (Ind. 2005). Kruse had a high degree of suspicion that Lindsey had just violated the law because he saw Lindsey go into the CVS with a weapon. The degree of intrusion of his quick inspection of the car was minimal and he performed the search based on law enforcement safety, wrote the judge.

Lindsey also challenged the removal of juror No. 37 for cause, and in denying his Baston challenge to the state's preemptory strike of juror No. 10. The jurors in question and Lindsey are African-American.

The trial court didn't err in striking juror No. 37 because he answered it would be hard for him to be fair and impartial to the state because of past experiences he had with police, the appellate court concluded. The trial court also didn't err in denying Lindsey's Baston challenge because the state proved it removed juror No. 10 for race-neutral reasons. In addition, juror No. 5, who is also African-American, was struck by Lindsey.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed Lindsey's aggregate 70-year sentence for robbery, criminal confinement, resisting law enforcement, and adjudication as a habitual offender.

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