Judges reverse drug charges based on constitutional violation

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed drug charges against two Bloomington men after finding the police detective’s actions unreasonable. The detectives entered the men’s property while looking for another person despite clear signs of “no trespassing.”

Bloomington detectives Brandon Lapossa and Rick Crussen went to East Collins Lane in Bloomington to look for Clinton Douthitt. Police wanted to speak to Douthitt, who they thought may have information about a stolen handgun thought to be used in a murder. When no one answered at the home where they believed Douthitt lived, the detectives drove up a private drive until they saw a cable stretched across it. There was a security camera and a “no trespassing” sign posted. Crussen removed the cable from one side and the detectives continued driving up until they saw a mobile home.

When they got out of the car, they smelled marijuana. Merle Jost told detectives Douthitt was not there and it was not his residence. Based on the marijuana smell, the detectives later applied for and received a search warrant, which led to charges against Jost and Phillip Mundy.

Jost and Mundy, who were charged with various Class D felonies, sought to suppress certain evidence. The trial court denied their motions, but on interlocutory appeal, the COA reversed in Phillip D. Mundy and Merle Jost v. State of Indiana, 53A01-1403-CR-122.  

Using Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 358 (Ind. 2005), to analyze their Article I, Section 11 claims, the judges found that the detectives’ actions were unreasonable. The degree of suspicion or knowledge that the police had regarding Douthitt was not terribly strong, Judge Paul Mathias wrote, and the detectives took little or no steps to make sure they had the correct address when they entered the property where Jost and Mundy were.

The judges found the degree of intrusion the most troubling about the actions of the detectives. Despite all the signs that strangers were not welcome, including an actual sign that said “no trespassing,” the police still continued up the driveway.

And although the detectives were investigating serious crimes when looking for Douthitt, there is no indication that there were any circumstances, such as a hot pursuit, that would justify their intrusion, Mathias pointed out.

The actions of the detectives were unreasonable and the warrant to search the property was based on information gathered unconstitutionally and should not have been issued. The judges remanded for further proceedings.

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