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COA finds reasonable suspicion despite errant plate check

January 10, 2019

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a motion to suppress evidence when it found that despite a motorist proving a vehicle was properly licensed, the police officer who pulled the driver over during a traffic stop still had a reasonable suspicion to do so.

During a traffic stop for what he thought was someone improperly operating a white Saturn with a license plate belonging to a different vehicle, an Indianapolis police officer discovered marijuana in the car and notice that Michael Bouye was possibly intoxicated.

Bouye was later charged with Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana, Class C misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated and Class C misdemeanor operating a motor vehicle with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

The Marion Superior Court granted Bouye’s motion to suppress the evidence when he alleged the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle. At the suppression hearing, Bouye’s wife testified that the white Saturn was her vehicle, as she had recently sold a prior vehicle and transferred and re-registered its license plate to the Saturn. She then offered the registration receipt, showing the plate was properly registered to the Saturn on March 2, 2017, more than one month before Bouye’s arrest.

The trial court thus suppressed all evidence obtained, finding there was a “breakdown somewhere” that misled the officer and that he did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle.

On appeal, the state argued the motion to suppress should be reversed on the grounds that officer did have a reasonable suspicion to stop Bouye’s vehicle.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision in State of Indiana v. Michael Dwayne Bouye,18A-CR-1730, noting that it had previously held that routine license plate checks showing potential improper plate registration are enough to create a reasonable suspicion.

“The fact that Bouye’s wife, at the suppression hearing, proved that Bouye had not violated the law regarding the license plate and that the plate was, in fact, registered with the correct vehicle is beside the point,” Judge John G. Baker wrote for the court. “Even if it is later shown that the defendant did not violate the law, the stop itself is still constitutional so long as the officer had a reasonable suspicion that a violation had occurred.

“In other words, whether there was actually a violation is irrelevant to the constitutionality of the stop. What matters is whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion that a violation had occurred,” Baker continued. “Here, that standard is met based on the results of the (Indiana Data and Communications System) search. Therefore, the stop was constitutional under the federal and state constitutions.”

The appellate court added that the officer was not required to conduct a full investigation of the white Saturn, but rather, he was under no obligation to do more than the IDACS search to establish reasonable suspicion.

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