Despite win in federal court, defendant loses suppression appeal in state court

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An Evansville man who was charged with illegally possessing a firearm in both state and federal court could not convince the Court of Appeals of Indiana that his motion to suppress should have been granted by the trial court when the district court ruled in his favor.

In January 2020, less than 30 minutes before appellant-defendant Peter Parker was released from his night shift at Berry Plastics in Evansville, an armed home invasion burglary took place nearby.

Meanwhile, off-duty Evansville Police Department officer Samuel Shahine was beginning his shift as a security officer with a private security company and heard about the home invasion through his radio dispatch.

As Shahine was driving in his security vehicle, he saw Parker’s car parked lawfully. When he passed, however, Parker ducked twice.

Shahine, who thought the vehicle matched the burglary suspect vehicle description, called on-duty officers to investigate.

Parker was eventually stopped by several officers with weapons drawn and was arrested for illegally possessing a firearm. However, he was later cleared of any involvement in the armed burglary because he was at work at the time it occurred.

Parker, who was on federal probation at the time, was charged by the state with Level 4 felony possession of a firearm as a serious violent felon. He was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon in federal court based on the same facts.

Officer Adam Steppro, who participated in the felony stop of Parker’s vehicle, testified that although they were ultimately proven wrong, the officers believed at the time that they were stopping one of the burglary suspects.

Although the federal court granted Parker’s motion to suppress challenging the lawfulness of the stop and the seizure of evidence, the Vanderburgh Superior Court declined.

Parker amended his state-court motion to suppress, arguing the trial court was bound by the district court’s ruling. But the trial court denied the use of defensive collateral estoppel because “the State of Indiana was not a party to the federal prosecution and never had the opportunity to litigate the issue of the lawfulness of the stop.”

It then found that Shahine and Streppo’s testimony was credible, that Parker’s vehicle sufficiently matched the dispatched suspect vehicle description to justify the stop, and that the felony stop was justified by the factors of “officer safety,” “the possibility of the presence of a weapon” and “the nature of the violent offense that the officers were called to investigate in this case.”

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed, concluding that collateral estoppel does not apply and that the seizure of the evidence in question did not violate Parker’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

First, the appellate court noted that the charges against Parker were brought under statutes that are unique to both the state and federal governments. Also, while “the facts and issues necessary to both are the same or similar, the sovereigns are not.”

“Parker, whose possession of a firearm was illegal under both state and federal law, committed two distinct offenses against two sovereigns,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote. “Because there is neither identity of parties nor mutuality of estoppel as between the parties to the federal-court action and the state-court action, Parker is not entitled to the preclusive effect of the use of defensive collateral estoppel. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to give preclusive effect to the federal district court’s decision granting Parker’s motion to dismiss in the federal court action.”

On Parker’s Fourth Amendment argument, the COA concluded there was a reasonable suspicion supported by specific, articulable facts that justified an investigatory stop of his vehicle. It also concluded the stop did not become an arrest “simply because the officers drew their weapons and handcuffed Parker.”

As for the Article 1, Section 11 claims, the COA similarly found the stop was reasonable. It added that the duration of the detention based on reasonable suspicion was not “unnecessarily long” in that the police quickly found a handgun on Parker that led to his arrest. 

“The officers stopped Parker’s car and ordered him out of the car so that they could determine whether he had been involved in the recent, violent home invasion,” Tavitas wrote. “Although the actions of the police in ordering Parker out of his car with their weapons drawn was a significant intrusion, given the violent nature of the crime and possibly armed suspects, it was not unreasonable.”

As such, the COA affirmed on interlocutory appeal in Peter D. Juan Dontrell Parker v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1643.

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