COA affirms denial of motion to suppress after prolonged traffic stop

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An Indianapolis police officer did not violate a man’s federal and state constitutional rights when he intentionally prolonged a traffic stop which led to the discovery of paraphernalia in the man’s vehicle, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday. The appellate court found the officer had reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop.

In Tyler R. Browder v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1608-CR-1857, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer Brady Ball pulled over a vehicle driven by Tyler Browder when he discovered the license plate on Browder’s Pontiac was registered to an Audi. Browder was unable to produce a bill of sale or title for the vehicle, which he claimed to have purchased a week before, so Ball ran his information but could not find registration for the Pontiac under Browder’s name.

Ball also discovered Browder had a criminal history, including a reference to an auto theft. About 15 minutes after the traffic stop was initiated, Ball was still suspicious the Pontiac was possibly stolen, so he had Browder step out of the vehicle and asked about his arrest record. Browder claimed he had been arrested as a juvenile, but not for stealing a car.

Browder further claimed the license plate on the Pontiac belong to him and his wife and that there was no paperwork from the prior owner in the vehicle. The name on the registration was that of Kayla Lanahan, Browder’s wife, whom he said did not change her name after marriage.

Ball then asked if there was anything illegal in the vehicle, and Browder said no and allowed him to search the Pontiac. After giving Browder a Pirtle warning, Ball searched the vehicle and found a glass pipe use to smoke marijuana, which later tested positive for THC.

Despite denying ownership of the pipe, Browder was arrested. He filed a motion to suppress, which the Marion Superior Court denied before finding him guilty of Class A misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia after a bench trial.

On appeal, Browder argued Ball had unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. But Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias, writing in a Monday opinion, said Ball had reasonable suspicion to continue investigation into the ownership of the Pontiac given there was no paperwork and the license plate was registered to a different vehicle not under Browder’s name.

Further, under the totality of the circumstances, including Browder’s offer to allow Ball to search the vehicle even after being read his Pirtle rights, Browder’s consent to the search voluntary. Thus, the warrantless search of the Pontiac was not unconstitutional, Mathias said.

Browder also raised a claim under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, but the appellate panel also rejected that argument, finding under the three-part test in Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 361 (Ind. 2005), Ball’s decision to prolong the traffic stop was reasonable.

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