Split COA: Drug evidence from traffic stop wrongly admitted

The majority of a divided Indiana Court of Appeals panel has reversed the admission of drug evidence obtained from a pat-down search after a traffic stop, finding officers lacked a reasonable belief that the driver was armed and dangerous.

When law enforcement officers pulled over William Bean II for a speeding infraction, they conducted a pat-down search with his consent because they knew from previous interactions with Bean that he typically carried a weapon. No weapon was found during the search, however, and officers then conducted a search of Bean’s vehicle. There, an officer detected what he believed to be marijuana “shake,” or pieces and seeds, on the passenger seat and floorboard of Bean’s vehicle.

Without using the K-9 present to sniff the car for the presence of drugs, the officers conducted a second pat-down of Bean without his consent, after watching him act nervous. The officers asked Bean to shake out his pants legs, but Bean jumped up and down instead, and a bag containing an assortment of narcotic pills fell out of his pants.

Bean was ultimately charged and convicted of Level 3 felony dealing in a Schedule II controlled substance and Level 4 felony dealing in a Schedule IV controlled substance. Bean filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the traffic stop and subsequent searches, but was denied. A renewed objection to the search at his bench trial was overruled by Hancock Circuit Court and Bean was ultimately sentenced to serve an aggregate nine years with five years executed in the Indiana Department of Correction and four years suspended to probation.

A majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, however, upon finding that the officers lacked a reasonable belief that Bean was armed and dangerous, and that they should not have continued searching him.

“The dissent would hold that the discovery of marijuana shake in the vehicle justified the subsequent searches of Bean’s person as searches incident to arrest,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the majority, finding as distinguishable the cases cited by dissenting Judge John Baker in Vasquez v. State, 741 N.E.2d 1214, 1216 (Ind. 2001), Yoakum v. State, 95 N.E.3d 169, 175 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018, and Edwards v. State, 832 N.E.2d 1072, 1080 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

“In each of these cases, unlike in the instant case, there was evidence beyond the officer’s bare assertion that a substance was a prohibited substance. We accordingly hold the officers did not have probable cause to arrest Bean for marijuana possession after the search of his vehicle and the search incident to arrest exception does not apply in this circumstance,” the majority wrote.

The majority concluded that evidence obtained during the second search should not have been admitted at trial, holding that Bean’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure was violated by the second pat-down search and by officers’ request that he remove his shoes and their order that he shake out his pants. The majority therefore reversed and remanded in William Michael Bean, II v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-00225. In a dissenting opinion, Baker wrote he would “instead find that the series of non-consensual searches that the majority finds unconstitutional to fall squarely under the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.”

“The discovery of the marijuana seeds, the possession of which is a crime, on its own is enough to establish probable cause to search Bean,” Baker opined. “… Had no marijuana been discovered prior to the series of non-consensual searches of Bean, I would readily agree that the non-consensual searches were unconstitutional and that reversal is warranted.”

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