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COA upholds admission of evidence after warrantless car search

October 18, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the admission of evidence found during the warrantless search of a convicted drug felon’s vehicle, finding the search did not violate the man’s state constitutional rights.

In Anthony Ector v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1710-CR-2422, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers executed a warrant on a “trap house,” or house used to sell narcotics, in April 2016. The warrant allowed the officers to specifically seize any keys found in the residence to “aid in the identification of the individuals involved in the trafficking of controlled substances at the residence … .”

When officers entered the home, they found Anthony Ector holding an assault rifle and two other individuals, Kevin Rent and Charles Polk, inside the house. Ector was detained after dropping his weapon, and a search of the house revealed cocaine, marijuana, $2,000, drug paraphernalia and keys, among other items. All three men were placed under arrest.

None of the men would admit to ownership of the keys, but officers were able to determine that they opened a Toyota Camry sitting in the driveway, which was registered to Ector’s mother. Detective Jeremy Gates claimed to have seen the Camry at the trap house at least twice before and determined the vehicle was subject to a forfeiture. A subsequent search of the Camry’s contents revealed more marijuana and cash, as well as financial documents addressed to Ector and a single key underneath the backseat.

The single key unlocked the front door of the trap house, and Ector was subsequently charged with numerous drug counts. He moved to suppress the evidence found in the Camry as a violation of his rights under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, but the Marion Superior Court denied his motion and overruled a similar objection made at trial.

Ector was ultimately convicted of felony dealing in cocaine and possessing marijuana and was found to be a habitual offender. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld his convictions on Thursday, with Judge Edward Najam first writing that the warrantless search of the Camry was lawful under the inventory-search exception to Article 1, Section 11’s warrant requirement.

Specifically, the court rejected Ector’s argument that the nexus for the search required under Indiana Code section 34-24-1-1(a)(1) (2018) was not established until the single key was shown to unlock the residence, which occurred after the search. Instead, Najam said the decision to impound the car was based on the arrests of the three men and “the reasonable likelihood that the Camry had been used in the transportation of contraband.” Further, Najam said the officers’ decision to lift up the backseat of the Camry to reveal the key was not excessive under IMPD policy.

Turning to three factors laid out in Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359 (Ind. 2005), the appellate court then determined the degree of suspicion in this case was high, the intrusion into Ector’s privacy was minimal and law enforcement had an established need to inventory the Camry pursuant to the justified forfeiture. Thus, the trial court did not err in admitting the evidence.

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