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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today

In U.S. v. Jesus Uribe (SD Ind., Magnus-Stinson), a 15-page opinion, Judge Williams writes:

Early one morning, Jesus Uribe was driving along Interstate 70 in Indiana. Apparently, he was not speeding or driving too slowly, weaving recklessly across lanes, crossing the dividing line, or giving any indication that he was intoxicated. Nor is there evidence that Uribe’s vehicle, a blue Nissan Altima with Utah plates, was in violation of any of Indiana’s numerous vehicle requirements—no malfunctioning brake lights, improperly tinted window, visibly altered muffler, or expired license plate. Only one aspect of Uribe’s travel was interesting: the blue Nissan he was driving had a registration number that traced back to a white Nissan. Although this color discrepancy alone is not unlawful either in Indiana, where Uribe was driving, or in Utah, where the car was registered, the deputy following Uribe’s car initiated a traffic stop “to check for registration compliance.” That stop led to a search of the vehicle, nearly a pound of heroin, and a federal indictment.

Uribe filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained following the stop, contending that the seizure violated the Fourth Amendment because the deputy had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain him. Although the government offered no evidence to support its objection to the motion, it argued that there was reasonable suspicion that the car was stolen and that its driver was violating Indiana law by operating a vehicle displaying a different car’s registration number. The district court granted Uribe’s motion, finding the government’s explanations insufficient to establish that at the time of the stop the deputy had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Uribe was engaged in criminal activity.

In this interlocutory appeal, we must determine whether one lawful act in isolation—driving a car of one color with a registration number attached to a car of a different color—gives rise to reasonable suspicion that a driver is engaged in criminal activity. Because on this record, investigatory stops based on color discrepancies alone are insufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion, we affirm.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 13, 2013 11:26 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions