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Tinted-window stop yielding pot arrest by precedent-setting cop upheld

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Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer Keith Minch is on a roll in the appellate courts.

Earlier this year, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that drug evidence resulting from Minch’s stop of a vehicle with legally tinted windows was admissible in Erving Sanders v. State of Indiana, 49S-02-1304-CR-242.

Tuesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court conviction of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges stemming from another tinted-window stop by Minch in Gregory Johnson v. State of Indiana,  49A02-1301-CR-28. In both cases, Minch testified that he stopped the vehicles because he believed that they might have violated the Indiana Window Tint Statute, I.C. 9-19-19-4, and that he couldn’t see through the windows clearly enough to identify the occupants.

In Johnson’s case, he was found to be driving with a suspended license, and the subsequent pat-down search turned up marijuana. Johnson testified that the tinted windows on his Dodge Caravan were factory-installed and that he shouldn’t have been stopped, but the trial court refused to suppress the evidence.

“We are precluded from accepting Johnson’s invitation to consider photographic evidence presented during trial that he argues shows the tinting on his rear window was not excessive and, in fact, was no darker than other similar Dodge Caravans. To do so at the expense of Officer Minch’s testimony of what he observed at the time of the traffic stop would constitute reweighing the evidence, which we cannot do,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the court.

“Even if Officer Minch was mistaken about whether the rear window of the minivan violated the Window Tint Statute, his testimony establishes that it was a good faith mistake and that there was reasonable suspicion to make the stop.”

However, the opinion was less than an endorsement of pulling over vehicles with dark windows.

"We will admit that the degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that Johnson was committing a traffic violation was not overwhelming," Barnes wrote. "Unlike running a red light or turning without signaling or speeding as measured by a radar gun, there is much subjectivity that goes into deciding whether a window of a moving car is too dark under the Window Tint Statute. And, again, the State does not dispute that the minivan’s windows were factory standard.

“Still, the degree of suspicion was not non-existent. We also will acknowledge that the State’s interest in enforcing the Window Tint Statute is not an overwhelmingly pressing public safety concern. … Nonetheless, there are legitimate law enforcement and safety interests in prohibiting the operation of vehicles with excessive window tinting, and police officers are entitled to enforce the statute.”

The panel also rejected Johnson’s argument that lawmakers would not have passed a statute under which drivers with factory-installed window tinting would be subject to a traffic stop on that basis alone.

“If the General Assembly believes it would be wise to re-write the Window Tint Statute in such a way as to limit police officer authority to pull over vehicles for suspected violations of that law, it could do so,” Barnes wrote. “Additionally, the primary check upon potential abuse of the Window Tint Statute as a pretext to conduct traffic stops must lie with trial courts, which are in a position to judge the credibility of police officer testimony regarding the ability to see through a particular vehicle’s window tinting.”
 

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  • COA rewrites the law again!
    If the windows were factory tinted, the officer could see through them easily. When you go to court they don't pay attention to words, they believe the cop every time. If you don't have undeniable proof that the cop was in the wrong, you will lose every time. This is no different than the cop that pulled a driver over because he had a pin hole in his tail light. He didn't know the law either. If the windows were not too dark, where was the reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop? Sorry officer Minch but you should be a boy scout, not a cop and whoopee, a suspended license and a marijuana bust. While the robbers, rapist and murderers run free!

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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