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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ind. Decisions - Yet another Supreme Court opinion: J. Boehm cleaning off desk

In State v. James. S. Hobbs, IV, an 8-page, 3-2 opinion, Justice Boehm writes:

The defendant was arrested at a public restaurant for an unrelated crime. A drug dog called to sniff the defendant’s car in the restaurant’s parking lot indicated narcotics in the car. We hold that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit a warrantless search of an operational vehicle found in a public place if the police have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. We also hold that the search was reasonable and did not violate the Indiana Constitution because the defendant was already under arrest and the dog’s alert gave the officers probable cause to believe the car contained contraband. * * *

The trial court’s finding that the search violated Fourth Amendment and Article I, section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, and its consequent suppression of the fruits of this search are reversed.

Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, J., concur.
Sullivan, J., dissents with separate opinion, which Rucker, J., joins: I respectfully dissent from the Court’s conclusion that the so-called “automobile exception” absolves the police from not obtaining a warrant in this case.

I acknowledge that the cases recite that the automobile exception has two elements – the vehicle in question is “readily mobile” and “operational” – and that those elements are established in this case. But I think the Court reads the precedents too narrowly when it decides the issue on that basis alone. * * *

Exceptions to general rules, especially to constitutional rules like the warrant requirement, should be narrow, not broad. Defendant’s lack of proximity to the automobile at the time of arrest – he was inside his place of employment and the car was parked outside in the lot –should render the automobile exception unavailable. The trial court understood this and granted Defendant’s motion to suppress. I would affirm that determination.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 30, 2010 05:51 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions