COA affirms admission of gun and photographs into evidence

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A trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted as evidence a handgun and photographs of the gun found in a car being impounded after police discovered the driver did not own the car and believed it was unsafe to operate, the Court of Appeals held.

Lamont Wilford was driving his sister’s car when police stopped him after observing multiple equipment problems with the car, including cracks in the windshield and a smashed rear end. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Eli Raisovich discovered that Wilford was driving with a suspended license and placed him under arrest. IMPD Sgt. Michael Jefferson came to the scene and did an inventory of the car’s contents after Raisovich decided to impound the car because of its unsafe condition and because Wilford, who was not the car’s owner, was being arrested.

Jefferson found a gun in the center console. The gun was stolen. Wilford admitted he did not have a handgun license. He was convicted of Class A misdemeanors carrying a handgun without a license and driving while suspended with a prior suspension. Wilford only appealed his handgun conviction.

In Lamont Wilford v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1408-CR-534, Wilford objected to the admission of the gun and photographs of it inside the vehicle at his trial, claiming the warrantless search of the car was unconstitutional. The appellate court rejected his arguments.

“Here, the police initiated a traffic stop of an unsafe car, which was in the sole possession of a driver with suspended privileges who did not own the vehicle. As a result of the driver’s arrest for the driving-related offense, the car would be left unattended for an unknown period of time. The officer testified that, based on the totality of the circumstances, police procedure provided for impoundment in that situation. Under these circumstances, we hold that Officer Raisovich’s decision to impound the vehicle was reasonable,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote.

It was also reasonable for the police to inventory the contents before towing it, so there was no abuse of discretion in admitting the gun and photographs into evidence. There was no indication in the record of pretext for “general rummaging” through the car to find incriminating evidence, as Wilford was already under arrest when police decided to impound the vehicle. In addition, Jefferson followed protocol when he conducted the search.

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