COA: Traffic stop that led to arrest not a constitutional violation

Though an Indiana trial court erred in admitting a defendant’s statements about prior drug activity, the Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the defendant’s current dealing conviction after finding the officers who arrested him did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.

In Doran J. Curry v. State of Indiana, 36A04-1702-CR-373, an Indiana State Police Trooper stopped a car being driven by Chastity Westmoreland for driving below the speed limit in the left lane of Interstate 65.

Westmoreland told the officer that her passenger, Doran Curry, was her cousin who had rented the car so they could visit their grandmother. But when Wells asked Curry about seeing his grandmother, he “froze,” began to breathe heavily and failed to answer five similar inquiries.

Trooper Randall Miller, who had been patrolling the nearby area in a K-9 unit, then happened upon the vehicle, so Wells indicated he should “run the dog.” The dog alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle, and when Curry learned of the alert, he began shaking. The troopers then searched Curry and detected a large object on his person.

Miller tried to handcuff Curry, but instead the man spun around and ran away. Wells deployed his taser to subdue Curry and found him in possession of 100 grams of heroin. Westmoreland was released, and Curry was charged with dealing in a narcotic and resisting law enforcement.

After his multiple suppression motions were denied, Curry objected at trial to the admission of evidence from the traffic stop and of his statements regarding past drug activities. The Jackson Circuit Court overruled the objections, and Curry was found guilty as charged, admitted to being a habitual offender and was sentenced to 35 years on the dealing charge and to 10 days on the resisting charge.

On appeal of his dealing conviction, Curry argued the traffic stop was unreasonably prolonged to allow the canine unit to arrive, and the pat-down search was conducted without reasonable suspicion, all in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld his convictions Friday. Judge Mark Bailey wrote no additional time was added to the stop to summon Miller’s K-9 unit to the scene. Rather, Miller fortuitously arrived on the scene, Bailey said, and the entire traffic stop only lasted about 10 minutes.

While the appellate court also found Curry was in police custody at the time of the pat-down search, the intrusion was a justified custodial search. That’s because in addition to the dog’s alert to the presence of drugs, Curry’s behavior during the stop was suspicious, giving Miller probable cause to arrest him, Bailey wrote.

However, the appellate court found the admission of Curry’s incriminating statements about his prior drug activity was erroneous because those statements referenced extrinsic bad acts that were not admissible under the intent exception. But because Curry admitted to officers that the drugs were his, such error was harmless, Bailey wrote.

Finally, the court upheld Curry’s sentence, finding his possession of 100 grams of heroin with the intent to deal and his criminal history made his sentence appropriate.

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