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Trial court's suppression order binding to ethics commission

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After turning to the Indiana State Ethics Commission when a trial court ordered the evidence in a theft case suppressed, the state was reminded it “does not get a second bite at the apple.”   

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s reversal of the ethics commission’s ruling in Indiana State Ethics Commission, an agency of the State of Indiana, Office of Inspector General, an agency of the State of Indiana, and David Thomas, in his official capacity as Inspector General v. Patricia Sanchez, 49A02-1301-PL-12.
 
The state of Indiana, through the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, filed felony theft charges against Patricia Sanchez for keeping state property after she was dismissed from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Officials had found the missing items in her home and car.

However, the trial court granted Sanchez’s motion to suppress the evidence on the grounds the search warrant was obtained and executed based on stale information.

The state did not appeal the suppression order, and the prosecutor dismissed the charges.

Then the state, through the Office of the Inspector General, filed a complaint with the ethics commission. It did not tell the commission about the suppression order.

Again, Sanchez filed a motion to suppress the evidence, but the commission denied it. The commission then found Sanchez had violated the Indiana Administrative Code’s prohibition against the personal use of state property, and it barred her from future employment with the state.

Sanchez filed a petition for judicial review in the trial court. The court reversed the commission, concluding the suppression order constituted a binding decision on the question of probable cause and that the ethics commission had no discretion to ignore that order.

On appeal, the state argued the ethics commission had exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether probable cause existed to proceed to a public hearing on the complaint.

“We are not persuaded that the Ethics Commission is in a better position – let alone an exclusive one – than Indiana’s trial courts to determine probable cause,” Judge Edward Najam wrote. “But, even if it were, an agency’s special expertise does not allow it to ignore its privy’s prior, adequate representation of the same issue before a competent tribunal.”

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