Car search after meth dealer’s arrest divides COA panel

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A suspected Morgan County meth dealer who pulled his truck into his driveway as police were executing a search warrant on his property failed to overturn his conviction on appeal, but a dissenting judge found a police search of his vehicle after he was arrested failed to “honor the distinction between homes and motor vehicles for purposes of search and seizure.”

A majority of an Indiana Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday affirmed Brian E. Hardin’s conviction of Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine. The sole issue on appeal was Hardin’s assertion that the search of his vehicle was unreasonable under the circumstances.

Hardin had been a target of law enforcement, as Indiana State Police investigators had identified him as a suspected meth dealer using evidence they had gathered to obtain a search warrant for Hardin’s residence in Camby. Late on a late September night in 2017, police executed the warrant while no one was home, finding paper bags, heat seal bags that contained a crystal substance, digital scales, a “pay and owe” sheet, and other evidence of drug dealing. 

Troopers at the search scene then observed Hardin arrive at his home in his pickup truck, and they ordered him to show his hands after he exited the truck. Hardin was arrested after a scuffle.

Meanwhile, officers searching the home found about $327,000 in cash and more than a pound of meth inside. A detective then searched Hardin’s truck and found another 100 grams of meth in a bag under the driver’s seat.

Hardin was convicted at a bench trial and sentenced to 22 years in prison after his defense unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence from the search. The majority of a COA panel affirmed Wednesday in Brian E. Hardin v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2629.

“Regarding the degree of intrusion, Hardin was under arrest and officers had a search warrant and searched his vehicle which was parked in his driveway. With respect to the extent of law enforcement needs, the record reveals that law enforcement gathered information that Hardin was dealing methamphetamine and involved in the finance and delivery of methamphetamine in Morgan County and surrounding counties. Under the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that the search of the vehicle was reasonable and did not violate Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the majority joined by Judge Melissa May.

However, dissenting Judge Paul Mathias found the search improper under both the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11.

“I acknowledge that the police had information that Hardin was involved with the delivery and the financing of delivery of methamphetamine in Morgan and surrounding counties,” Mathias wrote. “But at the time of the search of the vehicle, Hardin was already in custody, and the police had gathered enough evidence to obtain a search warrant. It would have been a minimal burden for the police to have secured the car and quickly obtained a warrant to search the vehicle.

“… I honor the distinction between homes and motor vehicles for purposes of search and seizure,” the dissenting judge continued. “I therefore believe that the search of the vehicle was unreasonable and therefore contrary to Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. And I respectfully dissent from the majority’s holding otherwise.

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