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Police entry violated man's constitutional rights

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The entry by police into a man’s apartment based on uncorroborated information from an anonymous source violated the man’s federal and state constitutional rights, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. Because of this, the drugs found in the man’s apartment must be suppressed.

East Chicago Police Department officers were trying to execute an arrest warrant for Nelson Hernandez, an auto theft suspect. They went to the address on the warrant, but his mother said he was staying with her sister and gave just a general address.

The officers went to a building where they thought Hernandez was staying based on information from another officer who dropped the injured Hernandez off at that building following an accident. But that officer didn’t have a specific address and the building contained several units above a tavern.

The officers showed a random man outside the building a picture of Hernandez, who the man said was staying at an apartment with a green door. There was only one green door in the building. Officers knocked on the apartment door, which was Luis Duran’s. When he didn’t open the door after several minutes, they kicked the door down, found drugs, and arrested him. The officers later found Hernandez in a different apartment in the building.

The trial court denied Duran’s motion to suppress evidence but certified its order for interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial.

In Luis E. Duran v. State of Indiana, No. 45S03-0910-CR-430, the justices ruled the officer’s actions violated Duran’s Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 rights. The information available to the officers didn’t satisfy even the least-restrictive reasonable suspicion standard, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm. The officers needed reasonable belief that Hernandez was behind the green door, not just a reasonable belief that he lived somewhere in that building.

“In view of the hour and Hernandez’s immobilized condition, if the officers’ belief as to Hernandez’s place of residence was reasonable, it was reasonable to believe he was inside. The issue therefore boils down to whether the police reasonably believed that the apartment with the green door was Hernandez’s residence,” the justice wrote.

The police lacked even reasonable suspicion because they only had statements from the unidentified man who may or may not have had any connection to the apartment building. The information the man provided wasn’t corroborated, so entry violated Duran’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The officers’ actions weren’t reasonable under the state constitution, either, the justices ruled. They rejected the state’s argument that “degree of suspicion” relates to the degree of the officers’ suspicion that Hernandez committed auto theft. If the police had verified Hernandez’s aunt’s residence, they wouldn’t have had to knock on Duran’s door, wrote Justice Boehm. There were also no exigent circumstances in this case.

“The law enforcement needs were not pressing. Hernandez was not a flight risk and nothing prevented the officers from verifying Hernandez’s aunt’s address or embargoing the apartment until either someone emerged or a search warrant could be obtained,” he wrote.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard concurred in result in a separate opinion, finding the anonymous man’s information that Hernandez lived in the apartment with the green door was a sufficient basis for belief that Hernandez was in the apartment when they attempted to arrest him. But the chief  justice joined in reversing because it was not a reasonable basis for doing so in the middle of the night to arrest a relatively immobile suspect.
 

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