COA: Officer’s stop of car for expired plate ‘reasonable’

An Indianapolis police officer who initiated a traffic stop that led to the arrest of a passenger in the stopped vehicle did not violate the man’s constitutional rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, because the officer reasonably believed the vehicle had an expired license plate and registration.

While running license plates as part of a traffic patrol on Oct. 21, 2015, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Cameron Taylor ran a plate on a vehicle that showed the registration was expired. The information also showed the plate and registration had an expiration date of the same day, Oct. 21, 2015.

Taylor initiated a traffic stop because of the expired registration and asked the driver for her license and the vehicle’s registration. Taylor also asked the front passenger, Kevin Dowdy, if he “wouldn’t mind giving (him) his identification,” and Dowdy complied.

Taylor then ran Dowdy’s information and discovered warrants for his arrest. A subsequent search revealed a “receipt with pills in it” in Dowdy’s pocket, so he was charged with possession of a narcotic drug as a Level 6 felony.

Dowdy moved to suppress evidence, arguing the stop, detention, arrest and seizure of the contraband was illegal. But the Marion Superior Court denied that motion, finding Taylor reasonably relied upon information from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that listed the registration status as expired.

In an interlocutory appeal in Kevin Dowdy v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1612-CR-2679, Dowdy argued the denial of his motion to suppress was erroneous because his registration was valid until midnight on Oct. 21, 2015, the same day Taylor initiated the traffic stop and arrested him. He also claimed his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution were violated.

But in a Thursday opinion, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Elaine Brown wrote even if Taylor had mistakenly believed the license plate and registration had expired, the stop of the vehicle was still “based upon a good faith, reasonable belief that a statutory infraction had occurred.” Thus, under the totality of the circumstances, there was a particularized and objective basis for the stop, so it was not a violation of Dowdy’s Fourth Amendment rights, Brown wrote.

Further, Taylor did not violate the Fourth Amendment when he asked Dowdy for his identification, Brown noted, pointing to the case of Starr v. State, 928 N.E.2d 876, 878 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). In that case, the appellate court noted that, “Certainly, a police officer is free to request identification without implicating the Fourth Amendment.”

Finally, using the three-part test laid out in Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 361 (Ind. 2005), the appellate court determined the stop did not violate Dowdy’s rights under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

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