COA tosses conviction after unlawful arrest

Testimony of police officers who stopped a man for walking on the wrong side of the road, then arrested him for intimidation and resisting law enforcement should not have been admitted at trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

Christopher Neeley was detained by officers from the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department and Middlebury Police Department after receiving a call of a “suspicious person” walking along County Road 35.

Law enforcement stopped Neeley because he was walking with traffic in violation of Indiana Code 9.21-17-14. Initially Neeley ignored their orders to stop and continued walking. The officers then grabbed Neeley, believing he would jump a fence and run.

Once they had him detained, officers stated they believed Neeley was going to try to harm them because he was tensing his arm muscles as if preparing to throw a punch and he verbally threatened him. Officers responded by making threaten statements to Neeley for nearly 13 minutes, telling him there were three of them, he would get beaten and he would “kiss the ground.”

Neeley was subsequently charged with Level 6 felony intimidation and resisting law enforcement as a Class A misdemeanor. He filed a motion to suppress, claiming the police lacked authority to stop or search him under the Fourth Amendment.

The motion was denied but at trial, the court granted Neeley a continuing objection to the officers’ testimony. The defense argued the testimony was fruit of the poisonous tree that came from the arrest that was unlawful and made without probable cause.

A unanimous Court of Appeals agreed with Neeley and reversed his convictions in Christopher A. Neeley v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1511-CR-1909.
The appellate panel found that under Gaddie v. State, 10 N.E.3d 1249 (Ind. 2014), law enforcement did not have a “reasonable suspicion” for the stop, so Neeley had every right to continue walking despite the command to halt.

In addition, the judges noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Rodriguez v. United States, – U.S. — 135 S. Ct. 1609, 1612 (2015), which held that a police stop that exceeds the time needed to handle the matter at hand violated the Constitution’s provision against unreasonable seizures.  The Court of Appeals found the criminal conduct with which Neeley was charged occurred after the stop had progressed from lawful traffic detention to an unlawful seizure.

Writing for the court, Judge Elaine Brown concluded, “Thus even if the stop constituted a lawful traffic detention, our conclusion would be the same, that the court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence the relevant officer testimony.”

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