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State didn't prove man used car to keep drug

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The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned a conviction of maintaining a common nuisance because the state failed to prove the defendant used his car to keep marijuana.

In Robin Lovitt v. State of Indiana, No. 73A05-0904-CR-229, Robin Lovitt argued there wasn't enough evidence to show he committed Class D felony maintaining a common nuisance. Police pulled over Lovitt's car after seeing him cross the center line and fail to use his turn signal. Lovitt admitted to having a few drinks; his blood alcohol content level was .07 and he tested positive for a metabolite of marijuana. He had marijuana in his pocket.

In addition to the maintaining a common nuisance conviction, he was also convicted of various drugs offenses and operating while intoxicated.

The state's case against Lovitt relied on proving that he knowingly or intentionally maintained his car for keeping a controlled substance. The state claimed it didn't matter that the marijuana was in his pocket while he was driving the car.

The Court of Appeals interpreted "keeping" in terms of the statute as implying the controlled substance has to be contained within the vehicle itself or that the car is used to store the substance for further manufacture, sale, delivery, or financing of delivery of the controlled substance, wrote Judge Paul Mathias.

The statute isn't intended to apply to an offender who has personal use quantities of controlled substances on his or her person or even loose in a vehicle.

"To hold otherwise would make every drug arrest after a traffic stop subject to an additional charge of maintaining a common nuisance. We do not believe this to be the intent of our General Assembly," wrote the judge.

Lovitt also challenged the exclusion of testimony of one of his witnesses, Lois Crouch. Crouch is friends with Patricia Newbold, who was a passenger in the car. Crouch would have testified that Newbold told her that the police officer pulled Lovitt's car over immediately after Lovitt passed the officer, contrary to what the officer stated.

The trial court didn't abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony, and any error in excluding it was harmless.

"We cannot conclude that it is likely that Crouch's testimony would have led the jury to find Lovitt's and Newbold's version of events credible," Judge Mathias wrote. "Even if the jury believed Lovitt and Newbold, the evidence was still sufficient to convict Lovitt of possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia, and operating while intoxicated."

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