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COA split over whether officer had suspicion suspect was armed

June 23, 2015

An Indiana Court of Appeals panel was split Tuesday as to whether a man’s firearm conviction should be affirmed. The majority held the arresting officer had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was armed and dangerous when he placed his hand in his pocket, but the dissenting judge believed the majority didn’t adhere to the standard articulated when determining whether a pat down search violates the Fourth Amendment.

LaQuantis Johnson appealed his Class B felony conviction of possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. He was arrested and convicted after he and another man entered the Greyhound bus station in Indianapolis at 2 a.m. An off-duty police officer, Ralph Bridgeforth, who was working as a security guard inside the station, believed Sanders and Johnson may be intoxicated. He questioned them and neither had a bus ticket. When Johnson said he didn’t have any identification, he put his hand in his left pocket and wouldn’t remove it. Bridgeforth then placed him in handcuffs and found a gun in his pants.

Johnson argued that his Fourth Amendment rights, as well as his rights under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, were violated by the search and that the handgun should not be admitted into evidence. The trial court allowed the gun at trial.

The majority noted that Bridgeforth testified that he didn’t have any particular reason to believe Johnson had a gun, but he said that this scenario is how police officers get hurt across the country every day. Judges Elaine Brown and Rudolph Pyle III affirmed the conviction.

Judge Terry Crone dissented, claiming while the majority articulated the correct standard for review of a Fourth Amendment challenge, the judges didn’t adhere to it. The standard requires that the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person frisked is armed and dangerous. That was not the case here, as Bridgewater’s testimony gave a more general concern about people with weapons rather than anything particular with Johnson.

“The issue comes down to whether Johnson putting his hand in his pants pocket and refusing to remove it created a reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous. I think not. A hand in a pocket is not evidence that a person is armed and dangerous,” he wrote.

The case is LaQuantis Johnson v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1409-CR-409.

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