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Judges split over reversal of drug conviction after inventory search

January 19, 2016

Each member of a panel on the Indiana Court of Appeals authored an opinion regarding a man's marijuana conviction stemming from the discovery of the drug during an inventory search after he was arrested for allegedly driving on a suspended license. Two of the three judges voted to reverse his felony conviction.

Judge Melissa May authored the main opinion, outlining the facts of the case. Officer Dustin Greathouse pulled Chauncy Rhodes over for speeding. Rhodes stopped the car in a driveway. Because he was arrested for driving on a suspended license, Greathouse decided to tow the car and conducted an inventory search. He did not record everything he discovered, but did note marijuana found in a “red metal grinder” in the glove box.

Rhodes sought to suppress the evidence, which was denied; he objected to it at trial as well. Rhodes was convicted of Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana, enhanced to a Class D felony based on his prior conviction of marijuana possession. He also was convicted of Class A misdemeanor driving while suspended, which he does not appeal.

May found that Greathouse’s testimony was insufficient to prove the inventory search he performed on Rhodes’ car complied with official police policy. Because the state did not present evidence of police procedure, the search violated Rhodes’ Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure, she held. Judge Michael Barnes concurred in a separate opinion, noting there was no evidence of any effort made to comply with constitutional and statutory requirements in this case.

Judge Terry Crone in his dissent noted Greathouse’s testimony described the purpose of the inventory, outlined the procedures used to conduct it and established that Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department policy authorizes on-site inventory searches. There is no evidence that Greathouse was rummaging around in the car to find incriminating evidence. Crone also noted that it was reasonable to decide to impound the vehicle because the car was parked in the driveway of a private residence and someone in that home wanted to make sure the car wasn’t going to be left in the driveway.

The case is Chauncy Rhodes v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1503-CR-173.
 

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