Indiana police did not violate the state constitution when they searched a woman’s car without a warrant after discovering that the car matched the description from an earlier drug-related tip and police dogs alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.
Gail Whitenack searched her stepdaughter Richelle Whitenack’s vehicle and found items that suggested she was using drugs, so the stepmother called the police and told them what she had found. The police subsequently issued a tip to its deputies that included a description of Richelle Whitenack’s vehicle and the drug-related items.
Later the same day, a deputy pulled Richelle Whitenack over for speeding and crossing the center line twice and realized that the vehicle he had pulled over matched the description of the vehicle from Gail Whitenack’s drug tip. When a K-9 officer arrived on the scene, a police dog indicated the presence of drugs, and a further search revealed a split-box of syringes, wrapping from a coffee package and a spoon with burnt residue later identified as heroin.
The younger Whitenack was found guilty of unlawful possession of a syringe, possession of paraphernalia, driving left of the center lane and exceeding the posted speed limit. She was sentenced to an aggregate of one year executed with one year suspended and six months on probation and a $20 fine.
On appeal in Richelle Marie Whitenack v. State of Indiana, 35A04-1608-CR-1811
, Whitenack argued that the search of her vehicle was unlawful under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution because the state had received a report of the description, location and contents of her vehicle more than eight hours before the actual search. Further, she argued that the deputies should have obtained a search warrant after her stepmother called in the tip earlier in the day.
But Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Cale Bradford wrote Friday that the deputies had “ample probable cause to support their actions” because Whitenack’s vehicle was pulled over for legitimate traffic violations and K-9 officers alerted to the presence of drugs.
“The fact that there may or may not have been enough information to obtain a search warrant to search that same vehicle earlier that day has not impact on the legality of the subsequent search and seizure; officers do not have to obtain a warrant at the first practicable moment,” Bradford said.
Further, Bradford wrote that the appellate court has previously held that there is “nothing unreasonable in permitting an officer, who may have knowledge or suspicion of unrelated criminal activity by the motorist, to nevertheless respond to an observed traffic violation.” Thus, the evidence was admissible and Whitenack’s convictions were affirmed.