Reasonable suspicion of drug activity prompts reversal in suppression case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed suppression of drug evidence in a man’s parole violation case that was found during a search of a rented storage unit.

After being tipped off that parolee Tyree Harper was traveling out of state and dealing narcotics in Indianapolis, parole officer Josh Jellison called Harper in for a parole meeting and administered a drug test. Harper, who tested positive for cocaine, admitted to the violations of his parole and was subsequently arrested.

The tip had also suggested Harper had rented a storage unit, which was confirmed when Jellison uncovered a receipt for the rental in Harper’s home during a warrantless search after his arrest for violating parole. Both men went to the unit, and Jellison observed a handgun and a bag containing a block of white substance.

A search warrant for the unit later led to the discovery of two batches of cocaine collectively weighing more than 800 grams, as well as 12 fake oxycodone pills containing heroin.

Harper was charged with Level 2 felony dealing in cocaine in 10 or more grams, Level 3 felony possession of cocaine of 28 or more grams, and Level 4 felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. In response, Harper filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the initial search of the storage unit exceeded the bounds of the proper parole search and was instead an investigatory search.

He additionally filed a motion for discharge under Criminal Rule 4(C) on the basis that he had not been brought to trial within one year of his arrest or the date the charges were filed. A trial court granted Harper’s motion to suppress but denied his motion for discharge, finding the storage unit required a search warrant and violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

In State of Indiana v. Tyree L Harper, 18A-CR-0281, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of Harper’s motion to suppress. Citing United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001), it concluded that parole and law enforcement officers had a reasonable suspicion to believe that Harper was engaged in criminal activity.

The appellate court also noted Harper had actual knowledge of the search terms of his parole conditions, which allowed a supervising parole officer or an authorized Department of Corrections official to perform a reasonable search of property under Harper’s control if they had reasonable cause to believe he was violating or is in imminent danger of violating a condition of parole.

It therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings based on that conclusion. However, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Harpers’ motion for discharge pursuant to the speedy trial rule. Despite his contention that the clock should have begun to run on June 30, 2016, it concluded Harper was not held under the case until he his arrest warrant was served in Aug. 16, 2017.

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