Although a man’s incriminating statements made while sitting in a police car should have been suppressed, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled the error was harmless because the physical evidence seized was sufficient to sustain his convictions.
Duane Crocker was charged and convicted of Class C felony dealing in marijuana, Class D felony marijuana possession, and Class D felony maintaining a common nuisance after a traffic stop revealed 10 bales of marijuana in the trunk of his rented car.
During the traffic stop, Indiana State Police trooper Joseph Winters instructed Crocker to go sit in the front seat of his police vehicle. The trooper first administered a field sobriety test and asked Crocker questions about his travel plans, and then he produced a Consent to Search or Pirtle form.
As Crocker was reading over the form, Winters said he believed there was marijuana in the trunk. Crocker signed the consent form.
Winters next asked how much marijuana was in the trunk. When Crocker said he did not know, Winters read Crocker his Miranda warnings.
Crocker appealed his convictions contending the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence obtained during his traffic stop. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s judgment in Duane Crocker v. State of Indiana, 79A04-1210-CR-542.
In his appeal, Crocker argued Winters’ questioning was improper because it constituted a custodial interrogation and he had not yet been read his Miranda rights. The state countered that Crocker was not in custody when sitting in the police car and therefore the requirement to give him his Miranda rights was not applicable.
However, the Court of Appeals concluded Crocker was in custody because Winters had a high degree of control over the environment. Therefore, Crocker should have been given his Miranda rights as soon as he was inside the police vehicle.
The court went on to point out that Crocker had been given a written statement of his Pirtle rights which stated he had the right to refuse consent, force the state to obtain a warrant, and speak to an attorney before consenting.
The court found even though Winters did violate Crocker’s Miranda rights, the trooper’s misconduct was not particularly egregious. In addition, Crocker did not admit to knowing that he was transporting marijuana until after he consented to the search of his vehicle.