Justices grant transfer to 2 cases, including first impression search warrant question

The Indiana Supreme Court has granted transfer to two cases, including one case presenting an issue of first impression as to whether law enforcement can establish probable cause for a search warrant based only on the smell of marijuana.

The high court granted transfer last week to Sydney Renner v. Trevor J. Shepard-Bazant, 21S-CT-138, and Jesee Ray Bunnell v. State of Indiana, 21S-CR-139.

Bunnell presented an issue of first impression at the Indiana Court of Appeals: “whether law enforcement’s detection of the odor of marijuana based on unspecified ‘training and experience’ by itself provides a warrant-issuing judge with a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause exists to search a home.”

At issue was the denial of Jesse Bunnell’s motion to suppress evidence found in his home. Law enforcement obtained a warrant for Bunnell’s home based on the detection of the odor of marijuana, which officers recognized based on their “training and experience.”

The Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the suppression motion, holding that when the smell of marijuana is detected by qualified law enforcement, probable cause exists.

“But when the smell of marijuana is the only evidence constituting probable cause, the search-warrant affidavit — or information otherwise before the issuing judge — must include some information regarding the detecting officers’ relevant qualifications, experience, or training in identifying and distinguishing the odor,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote in December. “To conclude otherwise would sanction a categorical presumption that every law-enforcement official is adequately trained in detecting and distinguishing the smell of marijuana.”

The Renner case also involved a COA reversal. There, Sydney Renner sued Trevor Shepard-Bazant, her former classmate, after she suffered a concussion in an accident involving him.

Renner – who had suffered two previous concussions – was awarded $132,000 in damages, but the trial court denied her motion to correct error seeking $692,433.79. The Court of Appeals remanded for a retrial.

“Given the applicable law, and the undisputed evidence regarding the effects of Renner’s prior concussions upon the severity and long-term effects of the concussion she sustained due to Shepard-Bazant’s negligence, we conclude the court’s treatment of Renner’s prior two concussions as separate incidents, rather than as contributing to Renner’s injuries and damages arising from the auto accident, was against the logic and effects of the facts and circumstances before the court and resulted in error in the calculation of damages,” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote in October.

“The court took Renner’s projected life expectancy, calculated a value of $30.00 per day of her life, and adjusted the multiplication by a portion of her damages for which Shepard-Bazant is liable,” Friedlander continued. “On this record, we will not order the trial court to grant Renner a specific amount of damages. Instead, we must remand for a retrial.”

Arguments have not yet been scheduled in the Bunnell or Renner cases.

The court also denied transfer to 19 other cases for the week ending April 9, including a dispute between the city of Indianapolis and a dilapidated condominium development on the northeast side.

The Court of Appeals in September ruled in favor of the city on Towne & Terrace’s appeal of the denial of its petition for writ of execution and instructions to receiver. Towne & Terrace also appealed the grant of the receiver’s motion for an order compelling production of documents, which the COA likewise affirmed.

All justices concurred in the denial of transfer to Towne & Terrace Corp., et al. v. City of Indianapolis, 20A-OV-496, except Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, who did not participate.

 The justices split 3-2 in one denial of transfer: J.E. v. State of Indiana, 20A-JV-1262. There, the Court of Appeals in December affirmed the order awarding wardship of juvenile J.B.E. to the Indiana Department of Correction for housing in a children’s correctional facility.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Steven David voted to grant transfer in J.E.

The full list of transfer decisions for the week ending April 9 is available online. 

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