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Traffic infraction not necessary for police stop

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Even though a police officer didn't see a driver commit any traffic infractions before pulling him over, the officer could stop the car because he believed the driver might have been injured or impaired, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed today.

In Lucian Potter v. State of Indiana, No. 41A04-0904-CR-217, Lucian Potter argued his traffic stop wasn't proper because the officer that pulled him over didn't see him commit any traffic violations. Potter was stopped after Greenwood Police Officer Nicholas Dine spotted him weaving within his lane of traffic and nearly hit a concrete median when turning onto a road. Potter failed the field sobriety tests and portable breath test. At trial, his motion to suppress was denied; he was convicted of Class D felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated with an enhanced sentence for being a habitual offender.

In challenging his motion to suppress, Potter argued the police officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights for pulling him over because he didn't witness Potter violating any traffic laws.

The Fourth Amendment isn't violated by a brief, investigatory stop conducted by an officer who has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, wrote Judge Carr Darden. Dine testified that based on his training and experience, he thought the car's erratic movements were a sign of impairment or that someone was ill or injured. He wanted to make sure the driver was OK and further investigate the situation.

"These are articulable facts that support the reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was taking place, to wit: that the driver was operating the SUV while impaired from intoxication. Such circumstances warranted a brief traffic stop to 'confirm or dispel' Dine's suspicion in this regard," the judge wrote.

The appellate court also rejected Potter's argument that the Maryland case, Lewis v. State, 920 A.2d 1080 (Md. 2007), and the dissent of State v. Barrett, 837 N.E.2d 1022 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), show that to comport with the Fourth Amendment, a traffic stop can't be initiated until an officer sees a traffic violation.

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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