COA: Evidence obtained during welfare check is admissible

May 17, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled evidence from a search where police officers went into a house without a warrant to check on the children was valid evidence at trial and affirmed denial of a woman’s motion to suppress.

Butler University police pulled Jennifer Jones over and, during the stop, noticed the car smelled strongly of marijuana. Upon a search of the vehicle, the officer noticed a marijuana blunt in the ash tray and pills that were identified as a controlled substance. After Jones was placed under arrest, she said her children were home alone. The officers replied that they would arrange for their safety.

When an officer went to Jones’ house, he noticed a very strong marijuana odor. As he was searching for the children he also found marijuana plants and lighting systems. This was all taken into evidence after the children were turned over to the care of their grandparents.

At trial, Jones filed a motion to suppress the items from her house on the grounds it was a warrantless search, but the motion was denied. Jones filed an interlocutory appeal.

Jones claimed the 12-year-old child in the home was old enough to take care of the baby sitting responsibilities and thus the officers had no reason to enter the house.

However, the Court of Appeals pointed out that Jones, herself, expressed concern for the children’s safety several times.

“We cannot find many situations more urgent than three children left alone in their home in the middle of the night without any certainty as to when a responsible adult might next enter the house,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the panel. “…We conclude that the State established both exigency and an objectively reasonable belief that the children were in need of aid. Therefore, the officers’ warrantless entry of jones’ residence did not violate the Fourth Amendment.”

Jones also claimed an officer entered the basement and conducted a search after the children were found, but Riley wrote the record is unclear on that account and deferred to the trial court’s finding.

Finally Jones claimed Butler police should not have conducted the welfare check because the search exceeded their jurisdiction. However, the COA found Butler police can expand its reach when there is danger to personal or public safety.

The case is Jennifer Jones and Jamaal Jones v State of Indiana, 49A02-1508-CR-1148



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