Justices toss suppression of drug evidence in home-detention search

A defendant sentenced to home detention waived his rights protecting him against searches and seizures even without reasonable suspicion, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Friday, overturning the suppression of evidence found during a home-detention search.

The case of State of Indiana v. Jarrel Luke Ellis, 21S-CR-159, dates back to 2019, when Jarrel Ellis was on home detention with Marion County Community Corrections. His community corrections placement required him to sign a contract providing, in part, that he waived his right against search and seizure and would “permit MCCC staff … to search your person, residence, motor vehicle, or any location where your personal property may be found, to ensure compliance with the requirements of community corrections.”

Pursuant to that contract, Ellis’ residence was searched based on his case manager’s suspicions. The search revealed marijuana and a fake book containing hidden bundles of cash. Officers then applied for a search warrant and found weapons, cocaine, cash and drug paraphernalia.

Ellis was thus charged with multiple felony and misdemeanor counts, but he moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search of his home. He alleged the search violated his rights under the U.S. and Indiana constitutions because his community corrections contract did not unambiguously provide that he was waiving his rights against a suspicionless search, and because law enforcement did not have reasonable suspicion.

The Marion Superior Court granted the motion, but the Indiana Court of Appeals later reversed. The Indiana Supreme Court then granted transfer on Friday, when it likewise reversed the trial court.

The COA’s August opinion looked to Hodges v. State, 54 N.E.3d 1055 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016), and Jarman v. State114 N.E.3d 911 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018), trans. denied. Jarman held that an agreement allowing searches “without a warrant and without probable cause” did not unambiguously also allow a search without reasonable suspicion.

“Ellis contends that, because the Contract is less descriptive than the contract in Jarman, the Contract couldn’t have unambiguously waived his right against searches without reasonable suspicion,” Justice Christopher Goff wrote for a unanimous court. “This argument falls flat, however, because it was the detailed language in the Jarman contract … that precluded an unambiguous waiver of Jarman’s right against a warrantless and suspicionless search.

“In Ellis’s Contract, by contrast, no similar language limits the waiver to probable cause,” Goff continued. “To the extent that Jarman suggests language should be used in community-corrections contracts to clarify that the defendant is consenting to such searches, we find that language unnecessary.”

Here, the broad language in Ellis’ contract “clearly informs defendants that they are waiving all of their rights against search and seizures, which includes the right against search and seizure absent reasonable suspicion,” the court held, finding more specific language unnecessary.

“A community-corrections-home-detention contract that states that the defendant ‘waives all rights against search and seizure’ unambiguously informs the defendant that he is waiving the right against searches absent reasonable suspicion,” the justices ruled.

The court also rejected Ellis’ argument that there is no right against searches and seizures generally, but only against unreasonable searches and seizures specifically. The absence of the word “unreasonable” does not make the contract ambiguous, Goff wrote.

“If one broadly waives the right against search and seizure, the waiver necessarily encompasses the right against unreasonable search and seizure,” the court concluded. “Because Ellis unambiguously consented to searches absent reasonable suspicion, the trial court erred when it suppressed the evidence obtained from the search of Ellis’s home.”

The case was remanded for proceedings.

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