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Evidence properly admitted in OWI trial

March 19, 2015

Evidence discovered after law enforcement approached an intoxicated man’s minivan parked in a driveway was properly admitted at his trial over the defendant’s objections, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, finding no violations of the U.S. or state constitutions.

Cody Rutledge was driving around midnight on a road when it appeared to Wabash County Sheriff’s Deputy Dustin Hurst that Rutledge had difficulty keeping the vehicle on the roadway. Rutledge pulled into different driveways twice while Hurst and Deputy David Brinson were following the van, leading the deputies to pull up to the van while parked in the second driveway. Hurst ran the plate’s information and discovered the van was not registered to either location.

Hurst approached the van and found Rutledge in the driver’s seat slumped over the center console. He tapped on the window, waking Rutledge up, while Brinson stood at the back corner of the van. Hurst smelled alcohol; Rutledge denied driving the car and refused to participate in sobriety tests. A blood draw obtained after a search warrant was issued found he had a BAC of 0.19. Rutledge was charged with Class D felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated, Class A misdemeanor driving while suspended and being a habitual offender. He objected to the admission of evidence obtained after the deputies approached his car, but the judge denied his motion.

In Cody Rutledge v. State of Indiana, 85A04-1407-CR-330, the Court of Appeals found no violations of Rutledge’s rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. They found that Hurst’s approach of Rutledge’s parked vehicle was consensual and found outside the ambit of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. No lights or sirens were activated, the deputies did not initiate a traffic stop and Rutledge’s freedom of movement was not impaired, Judge Elaine Brown wrote.

Nor were his rights violated under the state Constitution. Hurst’s approach and initial contact with Rutledge was minimally intrusive and the deputies had a degree of concern, suspicion or knowledge that a violation had occurred.

“We further note that the Indiana Supreme Court has observed that few Hoosiers would dispute the heartbreaking effects of drunk driving in our state and that law enforcement has a strong interest in preventing crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers,” Brown wrote.

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