Reversal: Drugs found in sock not admissible

Three Clark County drug convictions were overturned Thursday after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined drug evidence found in a suspect’s sock should not have been admitted.

In Jarvis Peele v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-313, Jeffersonville Police came into contact with Jarvis Peele when the car he was riding in was stopped for failure to use a turn signal. Officer Levi James testified that Peele exhibited behaviors that indicated he might be armed, including patting his pockets and raising his entire body to look in the area around the vehicle’s center armrest.

During a subsequent pat-down search, James felt an object in Peele’s waistband. A sock then rolled out of the leg of Peele’s pants, and inside the sock officers found baggies containing methamphetamine, marijuana and pills.

Peele was charged with possession of meth, marijuana and a controlled substance and proceeded pro se. He moved to suppress the physical evidence acquired during the traffic stop, but the Clark Circuit Court denied the motion, noting the sock had fallen out of Peele’s pants, so it wasn’t a “search.”

Peele was then convicted of a Level 6 felony on the meth charge, a Class B misdemeanor on the marijuana charge and a Class A misdemeanor on the controlled substance charge. In overturning all three convictions, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge L. Mark Bailey initially rejected the state’s argument that Peele had not preserved his evidentiary challenge, noting his objection to the admission of the drugs found in the sock was not merely an objection to “cumulative evidence” to the officers’ testimony.

Turning then to the merits, the Court of Appeals agreed with Peele that the search of the sock exceeded the limits of a Terry search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, Bailey said James testified that he thought the object he felt in Peele’s waistband was “possibly a weapon.”

“The testimony of possibility is insufficient,” Bailey wrote, citing D.D. v. State, 668 N.E.2d 1250, 1253-54 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996). “As such, the State did not justify the search of the sock on the basis of the plain feel doctrine.”

Further, when the sock rolled out of Peele’s pants, he was handcuffed and was no longer in possession or control of the sock, the appellate court said, rejecting the state’s argument that Peele had “abandoned” the sock.

“During a patdown for officer safety, Officer James detected a non-anatomical object in Peele’s waistband and came to suspect that he was carrying ‘contraband’ of some type, ‘possibly a weapon,’” Bailey wrote. “When a sock fell from Peele’s person, Officer James was unaware of the nature of its contents.

“But rather than pushing the sock aside and obtaining a warrant, Officer James conducted a general search, ‘possibly’ for a weapon or perhaps for other contraband,” he continued. “In doing so, he broadened the scope of the Terry search beyond its protective purpose.”

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