Evidence found during arrest for public intox is admissible, COA rules

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a man’s misdemeanor cocaine possession conviction after it held the search an officer conducted after finding the man asleep in his car did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights and thus the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the cocaine found during the search.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer Mark Ayler in December 2014 responded to call of a suspicious vehicle and found Eduardo Cruz-Salazar asleep in the driver’s seat of a idling vehicle. After knocking on the window, Ayler opened the door to check on Cruz-Salazar. Ayler shook Cruz-Salazar a little to wake him, and then noticed his bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech. Ayler administered a portable breath test, and Cruz-Salazar registered 0.184.

Ayler then tried to help Cruz-Salazar by finding someone to get him home during the cold weather and because he was drunk, but no one answered at the number Cruz-Salazar provided. Ayler then arrested Cruz-Salazar for public intoxication. During the ensuing search, Ayler found a plastic baggie in Cruz-Salazar’s pocket that later was proved to be cocaine. The state charged Cruz-Salazar with Class D felony possession of cocaine.  

Cruz-Salazar moved to suppress the evidence of the search, alleging it violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion. Cruz-Salazar was found guilty after a bench trial of possession of cocaine as a Class A misdemeanor.

Cruz-Salazar appealed and claimed Ayler detained and questioned him without reasonable suspicion he was engaged or was about to be engaged in criminal activity, but the COA ruled Ayler’s actions were a community caretaking function and thus were an exception to Cruz-Salazar’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Cruz-Salazar contended under the third prong of the Kramer test, the public need and interest in discovering why he slept in his car did not outweigh the invasion into his privacy, but the COA disagreed. The public interest in checking on someone who is not responsive to knocks on a window is high because the person may have needed medical assistance or could have driven off while intoxicated, especially since Cruz-Salazar’s car was running.

Cruz-Salazar also claimed Ayler did not have probable cause to arrest him for public intoxication, but the COA ruled the totality of the circumstances gave Ayler cause to arrest him.

The case is Eduardo Cruz-Salazar v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1511-CR-1782.

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