A man’s voluntary confession that he was a habitual traffic violator is admissible even though he had not broken any laws when the sheriff’s deputy pulled him over.
The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the traffic stop was illegal. In Gabriel Atkinson v. State of Indiana, 12A02-1302-CR-149, the appeals court concluded the totality of the circumstances supports the finding that the deputy had a reasonable suspicion for the investigatory traffic stop.
Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Tillman pulled Atkinson over after observing the driver repeatedly drive over the fog line on the right side of the road. Atkinson then told the deputy he was a habitual traffic violator.
After being charged with a class D felony, operating a vehicle as an HTV, Atkinson filed a motion to suppress the evidence. He asserted he should not have been pulled over because he did not commit a traffic infraction.
Pointing to Wells v. State, 772 N.E.2d 487 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002) and Barrett v. State 837 N.E.2d 1022 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), the court of appeals explained the driver does not have to commit an actual infraction in order for the officer to become reasonably suspicious to conduct a stop. Rather, in these two cases, the court considered the officer’s observation of erratic driving along with other factors in determining whether all the circumstances provided reasonable suspicion.
Although Atkinson crossing the fog line was not an infraction, the COA found the deputy’s protracted observation coupled with his training and experience enabled him to determine that he was potentially watching an impaired driver.
“In sum, the State presented articulable facts and observations by Deputy Tillman, the totality of which are sufficient to support a finding of reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop of Atkinson,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the court. “As such, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s admission of Atkinson’s identity and statements made during a stop concerning his HTV status.”