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Traffic stop based on companion’s statement did not violate constitutional protections

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Police had the “reasonable suspicion” required to stop a possible impaired driver, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled, even though the driver’s companion did not specifically tell the officers the driver was intoxicated.

Damon Ray Bowers brought an interlocutory appeal of the denial of his motion to suppress evidence gathered from a traffic stop. The COA, in Damon Ray Bowers v. State of Indiana, 55A04-1204-CR-180, found the trial court did not err when it denied his motion to suppress, ruling the brief traffic stop was justified by the police having reasonable suspicion that Bowers was intoxicated.

Accordingly, it affirmed and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

In the early morning of Oct. 9, 2011, Mooresville police approached April Bowers, the defendant’s ex-wife, after they saw her exit Damon Bowers’ van. She was intoxicated and told the officers she and Damon Bowers had been drinking.

Police pulled over Damon Bowers after he briefly returned to the scene and then left. He appeared intoxicated, admitted to drinking alcohol, and failed three field sobriety tests.

The state charged Damon Bowers with Class D felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated and Class D felony operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of 0.15 or more.

Damon Bowers filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the traffic stop, arguing the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion and violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. The trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, he argued the police did not have the reasonable suspicion required to stop his vehicle because April Bowers said he was “drinking” and not “intoxicated.”

The COA disagreed.  

Citing Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356,359 (Ind. 2005), the COA pointed out that to determine reasonableness, it has to consider (1) the degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that a violation has occurred, (2) the degree of intrusion the method of the search or seizure imposes on the citizen’s ordinary activities, and (3) the extent of law enforcement’s needs.

The COA found police had “reasonable suspicion” that Damon Bowers was intoxicated based on what they observed and what April Bowers told them. It addition, it deemed the stop of Bowers’ vehicle to be a “minimal intrusion.” Finally, it pointed out that police needed to prevent Damon Bowers from driving further if he was intoxicated so he would not endanger himself or others.

 

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