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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ind. Decisions - Three opinions today from the Supreme Court

In Damion J. Wilkins v. State of Indiana, a 5-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Dickson writes:

Facing charges of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a Serious Violent Felon as a Class B felony and Possession of Marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor, the defendant, Damion J. Wilkins, sought to suppress evidence obtained when police executed a search warrant. The trial court denied his motion, and he was permitted to take this interlocutory appeal from the denial. The Court of Appeals reversed. Wilkins v. State, 930 N.E.2d 652 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). We granted transfer and now affirm the denial of his motion to suppress. * * *

This interlocutory appeal is a companion appeal to one brought by Wilkins's co-defendant, Cornelius Lacey. Both co-defendants sought suppression of the evidence resulting from the no-knock execution of a warrant for the search of the residence in which they were lo-cated. Our opinion in Lacey's appeal is issued contemporaneously with this opinion.

The defendant presents three arguments to support his challenge to the no-knock entry. One of these is his contention that the exigent circumstances should have been first presented to a neutral and detached judicial officer to determine if the circumstances justified a no-knock en-try and search. As addressed more fully in our opinion today in Lacey, we reject this argument. The police were not required to present known exigent circumstances and obtain specific judicial authorization before executing a no-knock entry.

Secondly, the defendant asserts that the no-knock execution of the warrant, even if permitted under the federal and state constitutions, nevertheless violated Indiana Code § 35-33-5-7.1 He argues that the statute expresses clear legislative intent to require officers to first announce their presence before any forcible entry. In Lacey, we noted with approval that this contention was rejected in Beer v. State, 885 N.E.2d 33, 42–43 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), trans. not sought. The defendant urges that Beer was incorrectly decided and that the statute should not be construed to permit exigent circumstances to justify an officer to bypass the knock and announce requirement when executing a warrant. We disagree and decline to further revisit Beer.

His third contention is that the factual circumstances presented in the record did not constitute sufficient exigent circumstances to justify the police bypass of the knock and announce rule. This issue was not presented in Lacey. Wilkins argues that the exigent circumstance relied upon by the State was officer safety, that this came from Wilkins's prior conviction for armed robbery in a home invasion and resisting arrest, and that the State failed to establish that the police had any expectation that Wilkins would be present during their search of Lacey's residence, thus resulting in an unreasonable search prohibited by the state and federal constitutions. * * *

The defendant asserts that the execution of the warrant violated the Search and Seizure Clauses in the United States and the Indiana Constitutions, but he does not separately argue any independent basis for his claim under the Indiana Constitution. Because he provides no authority or independent analysis supporting a separate standard under the state constitution, any state constitutional claim is waived. * * *

Because the defendant presents his claim of constitutional violation as a basis to support his motion to suppress, and suppression is not appropriate under federal law, we affirm the trial court's denial of his motion.

We find that the defendant is not entitled to suppression of the evidence on these claims of error related to the no-knock entry. Having summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals as to his other appellate claims, we now affirm the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress.

In Cornelius T. Lacey, Sr. v. State of Indiana, an 8-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Dickson writes:
In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from the execution of a search warrant by police forcing their way into his residence without first knocking and announcing their presence. The Court of Appeals reversed. Lacey v. State, 931 N.E.2d 378 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). We granted transfer and hold that the Indiana Constitution does not require prior judicial authorization for the execution of a warrant without knocking and announcing when justified by exigent circumstances known by police when the warrant was obtained. Because judicial officers may issue advance authorizations for police to bypass the knock and announce requirement, however, the better police practice is to minimize legal uncertainty by seeking such advance approval when supported by facts known when the warrant is sought. * * *

In conclusion, we hold that Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search or seizure, does not require prior judicial authorization for the no-knock execution of a warrant when justified by exigent circumstances, even if such circumstances are known by police when the warrant is obtained. Rather, courts will assess the reasonableness of entry based on the totality of the circumstances at the time the warrant was served. Constitutional uncertainty may be minimized when police, knowing in advance of the need to execute a warrant without complying with the knock and announce requirement, present the known facts when seeking the warrant and obtain express judicial authorization for a no-knock entry. This is certainly the better practice.

This appeal does not argue that the factors actually relied on by the police were inadequate exigent circumstances to justify the no-knock entry, and thus such claim is not presented.

As to the defendant's contention that police should have presented known supporting facts and obtained an advance judicial authorization for the no-knock entry, we hold to the con-trary, as explained above. As to all other issues, we summarily affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals. The trial court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress is affirmed.

City of Indianapolis, et al. v. Christine Armour, et al. - This will be covered in a separate ILB entry.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 10, 2011 11:21 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions