COA: Dog sniff, car search did not violate woman’s constitutional rights, suppression not required

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A Shelbyville police officer did not violate a woman’s federal or state constitutional rights in a traffic stop that led to her being charged with dealing in methamphetamine, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

In August 2021, April Chauncy was a passenger in a car that was stopped by a Shelbyville Police Department officer stopped for not using a turn signal until the car was already at an intersection.

The officer ran the names of the vehicle’s occupants and didn’t discover active warrants, but he learned that Chauncy and the driver had previously been charged with crimes related to meth.

The officer asked if they would step out of the car to speak with him, but the driver declined. He also asked if there were drugs or weapons in the car, and the driver said there was a knife in her purse but no drugs.

While walking back to his car to print a written warning, the officer radioed for a drug-sniffing canine. He later testified that the computer in his car was running slowly, which caused a delay in printing.

The dog indicated to the odor of drugs from the car, and officers informed the driver that they now had probable cause to search the car. Police then found meth, scales and smoking pipes.

Chauncy was subsequently charged with dealing in meth, a Level 2 felony.

She filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in the search, claiming police had illegally stopped the car, unlawfully detained her and the driver, and illegally searched the car. The Shelby Superior Court denied that motion, and Chauncy appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Chauncy presented two issues on appeal.

First, she argued the trial court erred in determining police had probable cause to search the vehicle. Second, she argued the trial court erred in determining police did not prolong the stop in order to conduct the dog sniff.

Both, she argued, were violations of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

The COA disagreed on both points.

In a Wednesday opinion, Judge Elizabeth Tavitas noted officers can stop a vehicle when they observe any traffic violations, which creates probable cause.

Chauncy claimed the officer didn’t have reasonable suspicion to stop the car because he couldn’t identify the length of the block the car was traveling on, and she said the dashboard video was unclear about when the turn signal was activated. But the appellate judges viewed the video and determined it corroborates the officer’s testimony.

“The traffic stop was, therefore, permissible under both the federal and state constitutions,” Tavitas wrote.

As for Chauncy’s claim that the officer prolonged the traffic stop so a police canine could sniff the car for drugs, the Court of Appeals cited a timeline of the stop and an Indiana Supreme Court decision in its disagreement.

From the time the officer stopped his car to the time he printed the warning, 17 minutes and 45 seconds elapsed, Tavitas wrote. Also, the police canine alerted officers to the presence of drugs in the car just seconds before the warning was printed.

Further, in 2006, the Indiana Supreme Court held in State of Indiana v. Thomas A. Quirk, 842 N.E.2d 334 (Ind. 2006), that inquiring into whether a driver has a weapon inside a vehicle is within the scope of reasonable detention.

Tavitas added that the Shelbyville officer asked about a weapon in the vehicle before requesting the canine, making it “unlikely” that he was intentionally delaying the stop.

Chief Judge Robert Altice and Judge Elaine Brown concurred.

The case is April L. Chauncy v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-907.

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