COA affirms firearm felony in Indy500 case

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A man attending the Indianapolis 500 who was carrying a firearm without a permit did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that his constitutional rights were violated by a frisk.

While camping at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Coke Lot during the 2019 Indianapolis 500 weekend, Payton Bell was suspected of having a firearm in violation of the lot’s no-weapons policy. When confronted, Bell became irate and denied having a weapon.

Meanwhile, a deputy simultaneously saw the butt of a gun in Bell’s pants pocket as Bell’s hand came down, prompting deputies to grab and secure him.

It was determined that Bell did not have a permit to carry the weapon, so he was subsequently charged with Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license. The state also alleged his charge should be elevated to a Level 5 felony due to Bell having a prior felony conviction within the last 15 years.

The Marion Superior Court found Bell guilty of a Level 5 felony in a bench trial and sentenced him to three years, with one year executed with the Department of Correction, one year served with community corrections on work release, and one year suspended.

Bell appealed, arguing the seizure and frisk of his person did not comply with the Fourth Amendment and was not reasonable under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

In affirming the trial court’s decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals first rejected Bell’s assertion that he was subject to an investigatory stop when deputies told him to “stand still, stop.” The command came after the deputies had asked Bell to approach them and after he had begun answering their questions.

The COA also did not to agree that the deputies lacked reasonable suspicion to support such a stop.

“We conclude that the initial encounter was consensual. Only two deputies initially approached Bell, not several,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the unanimous appellate panel. “Although they were in uniform, the deputies did not swoop in on Bell in their cruiser with its lights activated. There is no evidence in the record that the Kubota UTV they drove was even demarcated as a police vehicle.

“The deputies did not draw or display their weapons; they did not touch Bell; they did not yell at Bell, but, rather, spoke to him in a calm and polite manner,” Riley continued. “In light of the totality of these circumstances, we conclude that Bell was not seized and subjected to an investigatory stop when the deputies initially approached him.”

Additionally, the panel concluded that following the consensual encounter, reasonable suspicion developed to support an investigatory stop and a frisk for weapons. It noted Bell’s liberty was not constrained until a deputy grabbed his arm.

But even if the deputies’ directive to stand still and stop had amounted to a seizure, the COA concluded it was supported by reasonable suspicion.

“Following that initial encounter, we have concluded that Bell’s own conduct, not the tip, provided reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop and frisk,” Riley court wrote.

Thus, the panel concluded in Payton Bell v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2354, that the deputies did not infringe upon Bell’s state constitutional rights when they seized him and frisked him for weapons, nor did they infringe upon his Fourth Amendment rights.

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