Reversal: New crime exception nulls ‘taint’ on traffic stop

The grant of a motion to suppress an allegedly unconstitutional traffic stop has been overturned, though the Indiana Court of Appeals did not reach the constitutional question in reversing the trial court.

In State of Indiana v. Julio Serrano, 19A-CR-305, former Brownsburg Police Officer Corey Spears was responding to a residential armed robbery dispatch in February 2017 when he radioed in about a white Cadillac Escalade leaving the neighborhood at a high rate of speed. Though he told another officer at the scene that he wasn’t sure if the Cadillac was involved in the robbery, he did not convey his doubts to dispatch.

Later, when Detective Dirk Fentz saw a white Cadillac stopped at a traffic light, he pulled up “nose-to-nose” with the vehicle and ordered the occupants to show their hands. Fentz later testified that while officers tried to get the occupants to unlock the vehicle, Julio Serrano exited out the back, pushed through two officers and began to run away while pulling a gun.

Serrano then turned to face the officers while holding the gun, so Fentz shot him. He was taken to Eskenazi Hospital and later arrested, and his firearm was recovered.

Serrano was then charged with Level 4 felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent offender and was alleged to be a habitual offender. He responded with a motion to suppress, arguing the traffic stop was unconstitutional and relying on testimony from officers, including Fentz, to support his theory that there was no evidence proving the Cadillac was involved in the alleged robbery.

The Hendricks Superior Court initially denied the motion, but later granted a supplemental motion to suppress after seeing Spears’ bodycam footage, which did not include footage of the Cadillac. The trial court denied the state’s subsequent motion to correct error, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the grant of the supplemental motion on Wednesday.

But in writing for the unanimous panel, Judge Melissa May said the appellate court “need not decide whether the traffic stop was constitutional because, regardless, Serrano’s conduct after the stop was sufficiently distinguishable and attenuated from the stop to be purged of whatever taint may have accompanied the seizure of the Cadillac.”

Specifically, May said the new crime exception under the attenuation doctrine applies here because of Serrano’s actions when exiting the vehicle and fleeing from officers.

“The officers did not expect Serrano to push them, run from them, and draw a gun,” May said. “Serrano’s decision to do all these things after the stop constitutes evidence of a new crime that is separate and distinguishable from whatever taint accompanies the stop of the Cadillac.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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