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Justices: warrantless search OK because of ‘objectively reasonable’ concerns

November 29, 2016

The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a man’s drug conviction Tuesday, reiterating that if an officer encounters an emergency situation, then he or she may investigate further without a warrant.

This decision came in a companion case to one in which the justices reversed a woman’s motion to suppress after finding an officer violated her constitutional protections against warrantless search and seizure.

In Eduardo Cruz-Salazar v. State of Indiana, 49S05-1611-CR-626, the justices held that Officer Mark Ayler did not violate the Fourth Amendment or Article 1 Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, which both protect against unreasonable search and seizure, when he opened the door to Eduardo Cruz-Salazar’s truck, questioned him as to why he was in the car, arrested him for public intoxication and eventually discovered cocaine on his body.

The case began in December 2013 when Ayler responded to a report of a parked, running vehicle left outside of a residence. When he arrived, Ayler found Cruz-Salazar in the vehicle either sleeping or passed out, but he did not respond when the officer tapped on the window of the truck multiple times.

The officer then opened the door and was able to wake Cruz-Salazar, who admitted he had been drinking. When no one answered the phone at the number Cruz-Salazar told the officer to call for someone to pick him up, Ayler arrested him for public intoxication “for his well-being and safety.” A pat-down search then revealed cocaine, and Cruz-Salazar was charged with Class D felony possession.

Cruz-Salazar moved to suppress he evidence, but both the Marion Superior Court and Court of Appeals denied that motion. The Indiana Supreme Court also agreed and affirmed, pointing to its decision in Mary Osborne v. State of Indiana, 29S02-1608-CR-433, as an explanation for its decision in Cruz-Salazar’s case.

In Osborne, the court decided that an officer’s decision to stop Mary Osborne’s car was not permissible because there were no facts to suggest that Osborne might have been experiencing a medical or other emergency. Although the officer in the case did believe Osborne might have been injured, the evidence was not enough to support a warrantless stop, wrote Justice Mark Massa, who also authored the Osborne opinion.

To show a contrasting situation in the Osborne case, Massa pointed to the case of Bruce v. State, 268 Ind. 180, 216, 375 N.E.2d 1042, 1062 (1978), in his Osborne opinion. In that case, the Indiana Supreme Court held that because a police officer had received a report that a woman was trapped in a car and then found a pick-up truck in a nearby ditch, the officer’s decision to open the truck and seize the shotgun filler lying inside was permissible because the officer had encountered an emergency situation.

Similarly, in Cruz-Salazar’s case, Massa wrote that the evidence, including the fact that Cruz-Salazar was unresponsive in the car, created “an objectively reasonable basis to open the door and check on Cruz-Salazar’s well-being,” thus making his actions permissible under the Fourth Amendment and Article 1 Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

All justices concurred.
 

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