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SCOTUS urged to not take Indiana case

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The Indiana Attorney General's Office wants the nation's top jurists to reject a Hoosier case posing Fourth Amendment questions about police searches, valid search warrants, and probable cause.

In a 33-page brief filed late Monday, the AG's office contends the Indiana Supreme Court was correct in deciding last summer that police can seize evidence not identified in an initial search warrant when those items of criminality are found on the scene of a valid search dictated by the first warrant.

The brief comes in response to a January petition for certiorari in Willie Eaton v. State of Indiana, No. 08-8153, which stems from a state decision issued June 30, 2008. That ruling in Eaton v. State, 889 N.E.2d 297 (Ind. 2008), affirmed a judgment from Wayne Circuit Judge David Kolger and held Eaton's convictions for cocaine dealing and marijuana possession should stand because an initial search warrant had sufficient probable cause.

Dating to May 2005, the case involves an Indiana State Police move to stop an interstate drug-trafficking conspiracy. Eaton went to a Richmond muffler store to meet with Edgar Gonzalez, who earlier in the day police stopped for speeding and caught with cocaine. A trooper rode with Gonzalez to the destination and planted a recording device in the vehicle, and then waited to enter the muffler store until after Eaton arrived. Police obtained a warrant to search Eaton's home based on a statement from the officer who said drug traffickers commonly kept money and records regarding drug trades on cell phones, computers, and other items at home.

During the search for records, police saw several items in the home - including cocaine - that caused them to get another warrant allowing for police to seize those additional items and eventually leading to the convictions.

On direct appeal, four justices concluded that a police officer may seize evidence not identified in a search warrant "when he inadvertently discovers items of readily apparent criminality while rightfully occupying a particular location." But Justice Robert D. Rucker dissented, fearing that the majority's logic in approving that search warrant would invite more government searches and that could violate both the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.

Hoping to overturn that decision, Eaton's pro bono counsel F. Thomas Schornhorst, a professor emeritus at Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington, filed a petition Jan. 12 asking the high court to accept jurisdiction in a case posing important and recurring Fourth Amendment questions on broadly worded search warrants.

In its response brief, the attorney general's office poses the question: "When police arrest a suspected drug trafficker at the scene of a four-kilo transaction, is it reasonable for them to infer, for purposes of obtaining a search warrant, that the suspect likely conceals documentary and other evidence of his drug trade at home?"

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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