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Arrest, search of woman who walked from police unconstitutional

February 9, 2016

Indianapolis police who arrested and searched a woman after she walked away from them violated her Fourth Amendment rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Police responding to a report of a disturbance at a convenience store saw Nicole Miller walking away from the store, and she continued walking to her apartment after an officer exited his cruiser and said, “Hey, I need to talk to you.”

Officers knocked on the apartment door and another woman answered, but eventually Miller appeared. When asked why she didn’t stop to speak with police, she said, “I didn’t know what you wanted to talk to me about,” at which point she was immediately placed under arrest for misdemeanor resisting law enforcement. Police patted her down and found an ecstasy pill and Spice. She also was charged with Class D felony possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of a synthetic drug.

A Marion Superior trial court denied her motion to suppress evidence from the search but certified its order for interlocutory appeal.

“Reasserting the principle of Gaddie v. State, 10 N.E.3d 1249 (Ind. 2014), we find that this arrest violated Miller’s well-established right to walk away; consequently, the subsequent search incident to the arrest violated her Fourth Amendment rights. We reverse and remand,” Judge John Baker wrote for the panel.

“Prior to Gaddie, some appellate decisions upheld convictions for resisting law enforcement even where the police had no basis to order the defendant to stop,” Baker wrote in Nicole Miller v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1507-CR-789.  “Our Supreme Court abrogated this line of cases, holding that the third element of the resisting law enforcement by fleeing statute ‘must be understood to require that such order to stop rest on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, that is, specific, articulable facts that would lead the officer to reasonably suspect that criminal activity is afoot.”

“Although the present case comes to us in a different procedural posture — a motion to suppress evidence rather than a conviction for resisting law enforcement — we find Gaddie’s rationale to compel a reversal. Our Supreme Court recognized that a person’s freedom to walk away is rendered illusory if she is subjected to criminal penalty for exercising that freedom. Just the same, a person’s freedom to walk away is rendered illusory if she is subjected to arrest for exercising that freedom.”
 

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