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COA affirms search of locked home safe in meth case

January 15, 2019

A man who came home as police were executing a search warrant lost his bid to suppress evidence of meth dealing that came from a safe in his Brown County house after he provided officers the combination.

Randall Brown appealed the denial of his motion to suppress evidence that came from the safe. Brown was charged in 2016 with Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine, Level 6 felony possession of methamphetamine and Level 6 felony maintaining a common nuisance.

Police found evidence of methamphetamine use throughout the house, according to the record, but didn’t find evidence of dealing until they opened the safe after Brown provided the combination. Inside, they found a stash of meth and $9,000 in cash — including several hundred dollars in bills that the Franklin Police Department had logged by serial number as being used in prior controlled buys of meth from Brown.

On appeal, Brown argued that while police had a warrant that allowed them to search “closed containers,” this did not extend to locked containers such as the safe. Brown argued police needed to obtain a second warrant for the safe and provide him a Pirtle warning advising him of his right to counsel before consenting to a search.

But Judge Melissa May wrote the record showed Brown volunteered the location and combination of the safe, and even if he hadn’t, police were within their rights to open the safe with the warrant in hand.

“As the officers’ search warrant authorized opening the safe, Brown’s consent was not necessary to open the safe,” May concluded for the panel in Randall Brown v. State of Indiana,18A-CR-1.  “Brown’s revelation to police of the combination to that safe could not invalidate the validity of the warrant or render the search one conducted only pursuant to his consent. Accordingly, the failure of officers to provide a Pritle advisement to Brown before he revealed the combination is irrelevant. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Brown’s motion to suppress the evidence found in the safe. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.” 
 

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