COA upholds admission of syringe into evidence

Lawrence County law enforcement officials were justified in conducting a stop that led to the discovery of a used syringe, thus making it acceptable for the trial court to admit the syringe into evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Daniel J. Glasgow v. State of Indiana, 47A04-1708-CR-1820, on-duty Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department Officer Logan Smoot stopped his police vehicle when he saw a broken-down car on the side of the road. Daniel Glasgow told Smoot his car had a flat tire, but he could not produce a license. When Smoot reported Glasgow’s name to police dispatch, he learned the man had a suspended license, the car was uninsured, and the license plate was registered to another vehicle.

But rather than arresting Glasgow and his companion, Gordon Hunt – who also had an expired license – Smoot allowed the men to make arrangements for a ride home. Meanwhile, Officer Timothy Butcher also arrived at the scene. While the men were waiting for transportation to arrive, Hunt bent down in a suspicious manner, which led to Butcher’s discovery of a black jewelry box containing a white powdery substance believed to be heroin.

Both men denied possessing the substance, but when the officers asked Glasgow if he had any needles or weapons that would stick out during a pat-down search, Glasgow began acting uneasy and eventually produced a syringe.  He also pointed the officers toward a folded piece of paper containing heroin.

During Glasgow’s subsequent trial, he moved to suppress the syringe and heroin. The Lawrence Superior Court granted the motion as to the heroin but not the syringe, and a jury found him guilty of Level 6 felony unlawful possession of a syringe. Glasgow also pleaded guilty to a habitual offender enhancement.

Glasgow challenged the denial of his motion to suppress the syringe on appeal, but the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that decision Thursday. Senior Judge John Sharpnack wrote for the panel that the totality of the circumstances – including Glasgow’s uneasy demeanor and Hunt’s action of bending down in a suspicious manner – created reasonable suspicion for Butcher to believe criminal activity was afoot, making the stop permissible under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968).

The stop was similarly permissible under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution considering the high degree of suspicion caused by the men’s actions. Further, Sharpnack said the degree of intrusion against the men was low considering the initially consensual nature of the encounter, and the extent of law enforcement needs was high once they believed illegal activity could be occurring.

However, the court did not reach Glasgow’s argument that the pat-down search was unreasonable — thus making the admission of the syringe unconstitutional — because he produced the syringe in response to a question, not the subsequent search.  

“As part of the investigation as to whether Glasgow and Hunt were involved in illegal drug activity, and prior to conducting the patdown, Officer Butcher asked Glasgow if he had any needles or weapons,” Sharpnack wrote. “The question was asked during a lawful stop; the question was justified by the officer’s legitimate concern about being stabbed or poked with a used needle; and the question did not materially extend the duration of the stop or the nature of the intrusion.”

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