Officers’ request to see identifying logo not an ‘illegal search,’ COA rules

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A man convicted of multiple felonies after using counterfeit money at a drug store failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that an officer’s request to see an identifying logo on his clothes violated his constitutional rights.

In Asher B. Hill v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-1956, CVS employees including Shirley Waller called police after a customer, later identified as Asher Hill, tried to make a purchase with counterfeit bills. While one employee was on the phone with police, Waller saw Hill get in the passenger side of a car and drive away. The employees described a man in his 20s wearing jeans and a dark jacket with a bulldog logo on either the jacket or pants.

While approaching the scene, Mooresville Police Capt. Donald Kays saw a single vehicle on the road. When Kays arrived at CVS, he confirmed from the employees that the bulldog logo was on the back of the man’s pants.

Meanwhile, Lt. Daniel Whitley saw the same vehicle pull into a gas station, so Whitley pulled alongside it. The driver of the vehicle did not match the description of the man from CVS, but the passenger, Hill, did.

Whitley began to speak with Hill, who gave “vague” answers about his whereabouts earlier. Whitley asked to see the back of his jacket, which did not have the bulldog logo.

Whitley left the vehicle to speak with the driver inside the gas station, while Kays arrived at the gas station and once again approached the vehicle. Hill began cursing at Kays and twice gave a false name and date of birth, but he eventually showed the waistline of his jeans, which had a golden dog logo.

When Kays told Hill to exit the vehicle, Hill accused the officer of being racist and began recording the interaction with his phone. Hill did not exit the vehicle until Whitley returned and aimed his Taser at him. A subsequent search revealed counterfeit money, a plastic bag containing methamphetamine, a handgun and a driver’s license that didn’t belong to Hill.

Hill was charged with seven counts plus a habitual offender enhancement, but he filed a motion to suppress, claiming the officer had violated search and seizure protections. The Morgan Superior Court denied the motion and later admitted the evidence over Hill’s continuing objection.

Hill was eventually convicted on felony counts of possession of meth, counterfeiting and one count of identity deception and was adjudicated a habitual offender. He was sentenced to an aggregate of seven years.

In upholding Hill’s convictions, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected his argument that his constitutional rights were violated. Specifically, he argued that the request to see the back of his pants was an illegal search.

According to the COA, while the stop began as a consensual encounter, it “quickly evolved into an investigatory stop and became supported by probable cause.” The encounter was consensual when Kays first approached the vehicle, so the Fourth Amendment was not implicated then, Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

“However, as soon as Officer Kays determined that Hill fit the description — minus the dog emblem — of the suspect who had purchased items with counterfeit currency, as provided by Waller, Officer Kays had ‘reasonable suspicion’ that ‘criminal activity may be afoot’ and the consensual encounter became an investigatory stop,” Riley wrote. “… Officer Kays’ suspicion was more than a ‘hunch’ or ‘unparticularized suspicion’ as it was supported by the observations of a credible witness and immediately relayed to dispatch when the 911 call was initiated.”

Kays then developed probable cause when he discovered Hill had given him false names and dates of birth, a Class A misdemeanor offense.

“Because Officer Kays had probable cause to arrest Hill,” Riley wrote, “he could order Hill to exit the vehicle and conduct a warrantless search of his person. Therefore, Hill’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and the trial court properly admitted the evidence over Hill’s objection.”

Finally, in a footnote, the appellate panel disagreed with Hill’s contention that he should have received a Pirtle warning before the search of his person, finding that Kays’ probable cause defeated the Pirtle requirement.

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