Drug evidence found in a vehicle in the garage of a home where police were looking for evidence of a prior assault should not have been suppressed, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in a reversal Friday.
“We recognize that Hoosiers have a heightened expectation of privacy in their vehicles. … However, we find … a search warrant authorizing a search of a particularly described premises permits the search of vehicles owned or controlled by the owner of, and found on, the premises,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote Friday, reinstating drug evidence against a man that had been suppressed in Tippecanoe Superior Court.
In State of Indiana v. Lawrence Lucas, 18A-CR-92, the trial court deemed evidence of synthetic marijuana found in a vehicle parked in Lawrence Lucas’ garage in Lafayette inadmissible under a warrant that had been issued to search for evidence of a prior assault.
Lafayette Police Sgt. Matthew Gard was executing a warrant at Lucas’ home to look for a baseball bat, bloody clothes and blood evidence from an assault at the home reported earlier that allegedly had been perpetrated by Lucas’ sister. The warrant authorized a search of a home with an attached garage to look for that evidence, and money and a cellphone that the assault victim claimed had been stolen from him.
Gard found the bat and blood evidence allegedly used in the attack in the kitchen, then went into the garage. There he found a bloodied jacket matching the description of the victim’s on the ground next to the vehicle. He then looked inside the vehicle and discovered a large mound on the back seat covered by a blanket. He reached inside, moved the blanket and discovered what appeared to be synthetic marijuana.
After this discovery and the observation of other evidence of narcotics, Gard stopped his search and procured a second warrant for the drugs, yielding additional evidence. Lucas was charged with Level 4 felony possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon; Level 6 felony counts of dealing in a synthetic drug or synthetic drug lookalike substance and maintaining a common nuisance; and Class A misdemeanor possession of a synthetic drug or synthetic drug lookalike substance.
But last December, the trial court granted Lucas’ motion to suppress, ruling the officer’s entry into the vehicle and moving the blanket exceeded the scope of the warrant, rendering all subsequent evidence inadmissible.
While noting the decision did not address unraised claims under the Indiana Constitution, the COA held that the search in this case did not violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, citing United States v. Percival, 756 F.2d 600 (7th Cir. 1985).
“Here, Sergeant Gard procured a search warrant for Lucas’ ‘two story home with an attached two car garage’ to search for ‘[c]lothing, [a] baseball bat, a cellular phone, U.S. currency, blood evidence or any evidence relating to an assault and/or theft occurring with said residence,’” Riley wrote. “When Sergeant Gard entered the garage, he had not yet located the cell phone or the $60 (the victim) had reported stolen. Sergeant Gard was permitted to search the black vehicle and, in the process, to lift the blanket covering the large mound located in the back seat, because the vehicle and the mound were capable of containing those objects.
“The State has shown that the trial court’s ruling granting Lucas’ motion to suppress was contrary to law,” the panel held, remanding the case for further proceedings.