Without a case on point for the Indiana Court of Appeals to follow, the state’s second-highest appellate court has followed the direction of federal rulings and national precedent on allowing police to search locked glove boxes without a warrant.
The 2-1 ruling came today in Anthony A. Parish v. State of Indiana, No. 02A03-1002-CR-74, in which the majority affirmed the judgment from Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull that denied Parish’s claims that a gun and marijuana found inside his car should have been suppressed because police didn’t have a warrant to search the locked glove box.
Judge Patricia Riley disagreed with her colleagues, finding that police weren’t justified in their warrantless search and that the evidence found inside should have been suppressed. Parish should receive a new trial, she found.
The case involves a September 2008 patrol stop where Fort Wayne police observed Parish’s vehicle making a turn without a signal. The officer recognized Parish as he was a suspect in several shootings, and police were on “high alert” that he was armed following a previous warning that he’d threatened to kill the next officer he encountered.
While waiting for backup to arrive on the scene, the officer ordered Parish out of the car and performed a pat-down search until another officer arrived and handcuffed Parish for another protective search. The first officer began a protective search inside the car and used the keys to unlock the glove box because of suspicions Parish was armed. Inside, that officer found a Smith and Wesson revolver and bag of what was later determined to be marijuana, but after seizing that evidence and checking his license and registration, let Parish leave with a moving citation for not using his turn signal.
Four months after that stop, police arrested Parish after finding the weapon seized matched ballistics to the weapon used in a murder that summer. He was ultimately convicted by a jury in November 2009 on murder, Class B felony robbery, and class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license. He received 86 years incarceration.
Despite Parish’s attempts to have the evidence suppressed on Fourth Amendment illegal search grounds, the trial judge denied those motions setting the stage for this appeal.
In the 15-opinion, Judges Paul Mathias and Cale Bradford affirmed the trial judge’s handling of the case and found the police were justified in searching that locked glove box – though they did point out questions about why police had let Parish leave with only a traffic citation.
The majority determined it was reasonable for the officer to conclude her safety was in danger, and the judges relied on state caselaw allowing for warrantless searches in those situations.
“We think it goes without saying that a glove box is a place where a weapon could easily be placed or hidden,” Judge Mathias wrote, noting that this case is unique because it deals with a locked glove box being searched as part of a protective search. “In other words, does the fact that the glove box was locked mean that Parish could not gain immediate control of any weapon hidden therein? Although there appears to be no Indiana case directly on point, the federal courts of appeal, including the Seventh Circuit, have held that a locked glove box may be searched during a protective search of an automobile.”
The cases cited involved situations where occupants were initially removed from a car during a traffic stop because an officer might be in danger, but the occupants were allowed to return to that vehicle.
That differs from the facts in Arizona v. Gant, 129 S. Ct. 1710 (2009), in which the nation’s highest court ruled those searches weren’t allowed in situations where a driver is arrested and secured prior to that search being done by police.
Judge Riley dissented, saying that the state hadn’t proved that an exception to the search warrant requirement was needed. She cited Arizona v. Gant and how the Supreme Court limited law enforcement’s ability to search a vehicle and that applies here. That precedent guides Indiana law, she determined.
“While we are dealing here with a traffic stop, rather than an arrest, the fact remains that Parish, like Gant, was removed from his car and handcuffed,” she wrote. “Accordingly, because Parish no longer posed a threat, the officers cannot justify a search of his car based on a concern for officer safety. The justification of the search diminishes even more in light of the fact that the officers released Parish after the search. A more prudent course of action for the officers would have been to take Parish into custody as a ‘suspect in several shootings’ and then request a search warrant for his car.”