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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. 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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