COA reverses marijuana conviction based on illegal traffic stop

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A police officer was mistaken when he pulled over a vehicle that, due to a broken tail light, emitted more white light than red light, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. The statute only requires that some red light be visible, which occurred in this case.

Kokomo Police Officer Jeff Packard pulled over Koylann Williams’ car when he saw one of the tail lamps on the vehicle had a hole and was emitting white light. He testified that a “miniscule” amount of red light was emitting from the outer rim of the tail lamp.

As Packard approached the car, he smelled marijuana. A canine officer indicated the presence of drugs in Williams’ vehicle, and Williams admitted he had plastic bag of marijuana in his pocket. He was charged with and convicted of Class A misdemeanor marijuana possession.

In Kolyann Williams v. State of Indiana, 34A02-1406-CR-418, Williams argued that all the evidence collected as a result of the traffic stop must be suppressed because the stop was illegal. The trial court denied his motion to suppress.

Ind. Code 9-19-6-4 says that a registered motor vehicle in Indiana must have at least two tail lamps mounted on the rear that, when lighted, emit a red light plainly visible from at least 500 feet.

“Our review of the record leads us to conclude that the evidence does not establish a violation of Indiana Code section 9-19-6-4. While Officer Packard did testify that the white light emanating from the tail lamp was ‘significant’ and overwhelmed the red, he never testified that the red light was not plainly visible,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote. “The plain language of section 9-19-6-4 does not only not prohibit colors of light other than red, it does not even prohibit those other colors from being the predominant color. So long as some red light is plainly visible at a distance of 500 feet from at least two tail lamps, there is no violation of section 9-16-6-4. In any event, the record does not establish that Officer Packard ever observed Williams’s vehicle from the required 500 foot distance, as his testimony was only that observed the vehicle from a distance of anywhere from 300 to 700 feet.”


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