COA affirms inventory search, seizure in traffic stop

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a man’s conviction for possession of marijuana and a handgun, among other things, after concluding the inventory search of his vehicle after a traffic stop was proper.

After being pulled over for failing to activate his turning signal, Timothy Farris was asked to exit the vehicle because he could not provide insurance information. He refused and proceeded to pat his jacket, take it off and throw it in the backseat where a “fairly aggressive pitbull” was located.

Officers then pulled Farris from the vehicle and arrested him. The vehicle was impounded and an inventory search after the dog was removed by animal control revealed marijuana, a handgun in Farris’ jacket pocket and a meth pipe near the driver’s seat.

Farris was charged with Class A misdemeanors resisting law enforcement and carrying a handgun without a license, Class B misdemeanors possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia, and Level 5 felony carrying a handgun without a license with a prior felony conviction.

The Tippecanoe Superior Court ultimately found Farris guilty as charged, and sentenced him to an aggregate five years and 182 days with four years and 182 days to be executed at the Department of Correction, which would include two years with the Tippecanoe County Community Corrections at a level to be determined by community corrections, and with one year suspended to supervised probation.

On appeal, Farris challenged the admission of the police department’s inventory search policy at trial. He also Farris challenged the traffic stop and the impoundment of his vehicle under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction in Timothy Allen Farris v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-02599,first finding that the traffic stop did not amount to an unconstitutional seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

As for the Indiana Constitution and the degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that a violation had occurred, the record reveals that Farris failed to signal when he pulled over, failed to signal when he proceeded after stopping, and failed to signal until he was a car length or two from South 4th Street. Regarding the degree of intrusion, we find that the initial traffic stop for failing to signal amounted to a small intrusion on Farris’s ordinary activities,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the appellate court.

With respect to law enforcement needs, we acknowledge that law enforcement has a legitimate, if not a compelling, need to enforce traffic safety laws. Under the totality of the circumstances, we conclude the seizure was reasonable and did not violate Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution,” the appellate court wrote.

Additionally, it concluded that the impoundment was proper under the Indiana Constitution because the officers were statutorily authorized to remove Farris’ vehicle, and therefore the inventory search was a valid exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

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