Officer's questions went beyond seat belt act

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The inquiry by a police officer to a driver stopped for a seat belt violation about the "large, unusual bulge" in his pants went beyond the state's Seatbelt Enforcement Act, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

A police officer stopped Robert Richardson for driving his truck while not wearing a seat belt. The officer had stopped Richardson before and never had any problems with him. After stopping him, she noticed a large, strangely shaped bulge in his pants which was his handgun. He produced a tattered gun permit, but the expiration date wasn't legible. Based on the issue date, however, the permit should have still been valid. The officer radioed headquarters to do a criminal check on Richardson, but there was a discrepancy on whether he had been arrested for misdemeanors or felonies in the past. The officer tried to arrest him for having a gun with a prior felony conviction, but Richardson struggled. After subduing him, the officer found cocaine in his underwear.

He was charged with felony possession and dealing in cocaine, as well as felony possession of cocaine and a firearm. He also was charged with misdemeanor resisting law enforcement, and battery on a law enforcement officer. The trial court granted Richardson's motion to suppress the evidence.

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding the officer's questions and actions were reasonable under the act based on the totality of the circumstances and concern for safety.

But in State of Indiana v. Robert Richardson, No. 49S02-0910-CR-428, the justices unanimously agreed with the trial court that the officer's actions weren't reasonable under the Seatbelt Enforcement Act. Under the act, a car, the contents of the car, or the driver or passengers may not be inspected, searched, or detained only because they violated the act. If circumstances warrant, an officer may make a further investigation if she believes illegal activity is going on, but the state must prove that the intrusion was reasonable.

The officer who stopped Richardson "crossed a line" because Richardson was cooperative, admitted he wasn't wearing his seat belt, informed her of his gun, and had a valid permit. The fact Richardson had a valid gun permit should have ended any further questioning by the officer, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

"There will, of course, be circumstances where something more than an 'unusual bulge' will be visible, or other conditions that provide a police officer with the requisite reasonable suspicion to conduct further inquiry. This is not one of them," he continued.

The Supreme Court remanded for further proceedings on whether Richardson's conduct created probable cause to arrest him for forcibly resisting arrest and battery upon a law enforcement officer. The justices declined to rule on that issue because of an insufficient record as to whether his resisting law enforcement and battery charges were severable offenses independent of the seat belt search that warrant prosecution.


  • still don't get it.
    Man arrested for not providing ID during seat belt stop. Mayor and Police Dept defend officer's illegal actions. Man files suit.

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.