Split COA affirms drug dealing convictions in warrantless search, arrest dispute

A divided appellate court has affirmed a man’s drug dealing and conspiracy convictions despite disagreement among the panel as to whether admitted evidence found during a warrantless arrest should have been excluded.

In Robert Shorter v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2904, Anderson Police received a complaint that Robert Shorter and another man had traveled from Detroit to Anderson to sell drugs. Shorter, who sold drugs to a confidential informant, was later arrested at a home after telling the informant that he knew people were looking for him and wanted to leave town.

When law enforcement arrived at the home to make the arrest, they could plainly observe Shorter through the open front door, sitting on a couch inside. After more than 40 minutes of watching him, law enforcement approached to make the arrest and Shorter complied when he saw them coming.

In court, Shorter filed a motion to suppress certain statements and evidence surrounding his arrest, but the Madison Circuit Court denied the motion. After the jury found him guilty, Shorter was sentenced to an aggregate 23-year term in the Department of Correction for Level 2 felony dealing in methamphetamine, Level 3 dealing in a narcotic drug, Level 3 felony conspiracy to commit dealing in a narcotic drug and Level 3 felony aiding, inducing or causing dealing in methamphetamine.

Shorter appealed, arguing the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress and admitted evidence obtained as a result of his warrantless arrest and the warrantless search of the home. Specifically, he claimed both the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution had been violated.

A split Court of Appeals panel affirmed, finding that the warrantless arrest of Shorter was supported by probable cause and exigent circumstances, and that the warrantless search that produced the heroin and methamphetamine introduced as evidence was lawful.

“Given the particular facts of this case, it would have been advisable and best practice for officers to at least attempt to obtain an electronic warrant prior to the arrest, but because there were sufficient exigent circumstances consistent with those found in cases like (Myers v. State, 454 N.E.2d 861, 864 (Ind. 1983)) and (Banks v. State, 265 Ind. 71, 77-78, 351 N.E.2d 4, 9 (1976)), a warrant was not required,” now-Senior Judge John Baker wrote for the appellate majority, joined by Chief Judge Cale Bradford.

Next, in determining whether the warrantless arrest violated the Indiana Constitution, the majority concluded that the balance of the factors under Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 359 (Ind. 2005), showed that the arrest of Shorter was reasonable.

Lastly, the majority judges found sufficient evidence to support Shorter’s dealing and conspiracy convictions.

But Judge Rudolph Pyle dissented from the majority’s Fourth Amendment conclusion, contending that “because an arrest warrant could have been obtained and the facts do not demonstrate the existence of an emergency or the imminent destruction or removal of evidence, I believe the evidence obtained on the date of Shorter’s arrest should not have been admitted at trial.”

“In this case, law enforcement officers were required to obtain an arrest warrant if they wanted to enter the residence to affect Shorter’s arrest; they claimed they could not because they did not know Shorter’s name. While it is true that a person’s name usually appears on an arrest warrant, it is not required. If a person’s name is unknown, Indiana law provides that an arrest warrant can designate a suspect by any ‘name or description by which he can be identified with reasonable certainty[.],’” Pyle wrote in his dissent.

The dissenting judge further argued that considering “the advent of technology over the last several decades, it becomes clear that the facts in this case do not establish the existence of an emergency demonstrating the imminent destruction or removal of evidence.” Thus, he would reverse the convictions under counts I and II and remand for resentencing.

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