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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court posts one today

Patrick & Susan May Litchfield v. State of Indiana (3/24/05 IndSCt) [Criminal Law & Procedure]
Boehm, Justice

We hold that a search of trash recovered from the place where it is left for collection is permissible under the Indiana Constitution, but only if the investigating officials have an articulable basis justifying reasonable suspicion that the subjects of the search have engaged in violations of law that might reasonably lead to evidence in the trash. * * *

In this case, it is undisputed that the seized trash was left in barrels on the property in its regular place for collection. The Litchfields therefore abandoned it and exposed it to the public. It seems clear that the police acted reasonably by quickly and quietly retrieving the trash from the place it was ordinarily collected without creating undue embarrassment or indignity. However, we cannot determine from this record whether the information supplied by the DEA enabled the state police to be reasonably certain that the Litchfields had responded to an advertisement in High Times, or merely informed the police that the Litchfields had purchased from a vendor that coincidentally had advertised in that publication. There may be other facts bearing on whether the officers possessed articulable individualized grounds for suspicion that the Litchfields were involved in illegal activity. At the time of the suppression hearing, we had not yet expressly adopted the requirement that a search of a person’s garbage be based on reasonable suspicion. There was no evidence presented on this issue and the trial court made no finding. We therefore remand this case to the trial court for a finding as to whether or not the officers possessed reasonable suspicion sufficient to obtain and search the Litchfield’s garbage.

Conclusion. This case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Sullivan, and Rucker, JJ. concur.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 24, 2005 01:52 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions