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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides two dog search of car cases

This afternoon the Supreme Court has posted two decisions by Justice Dickson, both relating to canine searches of motor vehicles and defendants named Myers. Both affirm the lower court ruling.

James Thomas Myers v. State of Indiana

The defendant, James Thomas Myers, challenges the admission of evidence resulting from a warrantless search of his car based on a police canine sniff sweep of the car following a routine traffic stop. He was convicted of possession of methamphetamine in excess of three grams with intent to deliver, a Class A felony. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Myers v. State, 812 N.E.2d 146 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). We granted transfer and now affirm the trial court. Separately claiming violation of both the federal and state constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure, the defendant's appeal contends (a) that the warrantless canine sniff test of his vehicle was impermissible because it was not done until after the stop had been completed; (b) that, even if the canine sweep occurred before the traffic stop concluded, there was no probable cause to authorize either the exterior vehicle canine sniff or the resulting interior search; and (c) that because his vehicle was not mobile, the warrantless search of the in-terior of the defendant's vehicle was not justified by the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.* * *

I. Fourth Amendment Claim. * * * In the present case, the defendant's car was readily mobile and thus eligible for the automobile exception regardless of the fact that it may have been temporarily confined by physical circumstances including the position of Officer Turner's police vehicle blocking it from the rear. Because the positive narcotics dog response provided probable cause to search the readily mobile vehicle, the warrantless search of it was justified under the automobile exception.

II. Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. * * * Considering and balancing the non-exclusive factors identified in Litchfield, we conclude that the interior search of the defendant's car was reasonable under the circumstances. * * *

Conclusion. We conclude that the warrantless search of the defendant's vehicle did not violate the search and seizure provisions of either the federal Fourth Amendment or Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Shepard, C.J., and Sullivan and Boehm, JJ., concur
Rucker, J., concurs in Part I and concurs in result in Part II

John P. Myers v. State of Indiana
In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant, high school student John P. Meyers, challenges the trial court’s order denying his motion to suppress evidence resulting from a search of his vehicle in the school parking lot. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Myers v. State, 806 N.E.2d 350 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). We granted transfer and likewise affirm the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress. * * *

We conclude, however, that the search was reasonable from its inception because it was conducted after an alert by a police narcotics dog. Furthermore, the search as conducted was reasonably related in scope because the school officials limited their searches to those areas upon which the dogs alerted. The vehicle search by school officials was thus reasonable.

Because reasonable suspicion is not required for a canine narcotics sniff of the exterior of an automobile that does not involve an unreasonable detention of a person, and because the search was predominantly initiated and conducted by the school officials of Austin High School and was reasonable, we affirm the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress the firearm seized from the defendant's vehicle as a result of the search.

Shepard, C.J., and Boehm, J., concur.
Sullivan, J., dissents with separate opinion, in which Rucker, J., concurs. Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion.

Sullivan, Justice, dissenting.
I respectfully dissent. While I am willing to accept for purposes of analysis in this case the tripartite standard for determining the legality of searches conducted by school officials in conjunction with or at the behest of law enforcement agencies, I cannot agree that the search in this case was, as the Court says, conducted by a “school resource officer on his or her own initiative to further educationally related goals.” Each of the searches “conducted by school officials with only the assistance of police” cited by the Court involved fact patterns where the assisting police officers were employees of the local police department who were pro-iding security at the school. The facts here are dramatically different; there is nothing in the record to suggest that any of the officers involved in this case were only school police or liaison officers as they were in all of the cases cited by the Court. * * *

Rucker, Justice, dissenting.
The United States Supreme Court has determined that under limited circumstances a sniff test by a trained narcotics dog is not a search within the meaning of Fourth Amendment. * * *

Taken together these cases seem to stand for the proposition that: (i) no warrant is required in the first instance for the use of a trained narcotics dog, and (ii) once the dog alerts to the presence of narcotics, probable cause has been established either to obtain a warrant or search pursuant to an exception. The question presented in this case however is one step removed, namely: whether something less than probable cause, i.e., reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity, is required before a narcotics dog may be used to conduct a sniff test.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 21, 2005 01:54 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions