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Two traffic stops and two motions to suppress result in two different rulings

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A pair of opinions from the Indiana Supreme Court examines two Terry stops made by police officers and through opposite rulings emphasizes law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion to pull over a driver.

In both cases, drivers were stopped after county deputies observed them on the roadway and concluded they were impaired. Both defendants filed motions to suppress the evidence, but only one was successful.

The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress in Joanna S. Robinson v. State of Indiana, 20S04-1307-CR-471. It agreed with the trial court’s decision to give deference to what Elkhart County Sheriff Deputy Casey Claeys said he saw even when that testimony conflicted with the video he made of the incident.

Claeys said he watched Robinson drive off the road twice then turned on his vehicle camera and initiated the traffic stop. The video showed Robinson weaving onto the fog line but not off the road.

Robinson was subsequently convicted of possession of marijuana and operating while intoxicated, both Class A misdemeanors, and operating with the breath-alcohol level over 0.08, a Class C misdemeanor. She appealed, arguing the trial court wrongly denied her motion to suppress.

Like the trial court, the Supreme Court gave more weight to Claeys’ testimony than to the video.

 “…when Deputy Claeys testified at the suppression hearing, the trial judge heard his testimony – along with the other witness testimony and evidence, including the video – through the lens of his experience and expertise,” Judge Mark Massa wrote for the majority. “Ultimately, that experience and expertise led the trial judge to weigh Deputy Claeys’s testimony more heavily than the video evidence, and we decline Robinson’s invitation to substitute our own judgment for that of the trial court and rebalance the scales in her favor.”

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, arguing the Indiana Court of Appeals was correct in finding the evidence from the traffic stop should not have been admitted in court.

He argued that rather than crediting Claeys’ testimony, the trial court concluded that Robinson’s weaving provided reasonable suspicion for pulling her over. However, Rucker contended that reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop required more than weaving onto the fog line.  

In State of Indiana v. Darrell L. Keck, 67S01-1403-CR-179, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, granting the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence.

Putnam County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Smith pulled Keck over after he observed Keck driving 12 miles per hour slower than the speed limit, come to a complete stop before turning left, and then driving down the middle of that county road.  

Keck was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of 0.08 or more, both Class C misdemeanors. He filed a motion for suppression, noting he did not come to a full stop before turning and he drove left of center to avoid hitting the potholes in the road.

The trial court took notice of the poor road conditions in the county and agreed that evasive action, including driving left of center, was necessary. It granted the motion to suppress.

The Indiana Supreme Court agreed that Smith lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Keck.

“We emphasize that our opinion today should not be taken to mean that driving left of center would never give rise to reasonable suspicion sufficient to support a traffic stop,” Massa wrote for the court. “All we hold today is that here, in this case, the trial court did not clearly err in concluding under these circumstances, that Keck’s driving left-of-center did not provide reasonable suspicion to stop him.”
 

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