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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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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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