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COA: Officers don’t have to relay specifics of their ‘reasonable suspicions’

November 18, 2016

Deciding that police officers do not have to relay the specific details of their reasons for being suspicious of a person before an officer stops and detains that person, the Indiana Court of Appeals has rejected a man’s argument that evidence of his possession of a handgun was improperly admitted.

In the case of Charles Dunson v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1603-CR-469, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers responded to a call about gunshots, shouting and violence in the 2400 block of Kenwood Avenue. The officers arrived and found Tamika Coleman bleeding from the face. During the officers’ conversation with Coleman, Charles Dunson drove past on a motorcycle and Coleman told officers he was involved in the altercation.

Officer Cathy Faulk indicated through police radio broadcast to Officer Matthew Addington and others that a man on a silver motorcycle “may be involved” in the situation, and Addington, upon seeing Dunson on his motorcycle, detained him. He then noticed a bulge in Dunson’s pants, patted him down and seized a handgun.

Dunson was charged with Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license, but the charge was enhanced to a Level 5 felony because Dunson had previously been convicted on the same offense. During his trial, Dunson challenged the admissibility of the seized handgun as evidence, but the Marion Superior Court overruled his objects and convicted him on the felony charge.

In his appeal, Dunson said Addington’s detainment and seizure of his gun violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the officer “lacked reasonable suspicion to believe (he) was engaged in criminal activity prior to stopping him and any knowledge known to the investigating officer cannot be imputed on the stopping officer,” as is required under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88, S. Ct. 1868 (1968).

Specifically, Dunson said Faulk’s indication officers on a radio broadcast that he may have been involved in the altercation was not specific enough to create reasonable suspicion.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed, writing in a Friday opinion that the Indiana Supreme Court had previously held in Griffith v. State, 788 N.E. 2d 835, 840 (Ind. 2003) that, “Where there is a police-channel communication to the arresting officer, he acts in good faith thereon, and such knowledge and information exist within the department, the arrest is based on probable cause.”

Such a police-channel communication existed between Faulk and Addington, the appellate court said, so Addington’s detention of Dunson was based upon collective law enforcement information. Although Faulk did not relay the exact details of her suspicion of Dunson, requiring her to do so would be cumbersome, practical and potentially dangerous, the court wrote.

“Requiring the level of detail Dunson suggests is necessary could hamstring an officer’s ability to effectively carry out his or her duties,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the court. “Allowing officers to rely on the collective knowledge of the law enforcement organization is practical and leads to more efficient police work.”
 

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