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Conviction for Possession of Firearm by Serious Violent Felon Overturned Due to Illegal Search

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a man’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a Class B felony, due to an illegal search of his car. The man was stopped for a traffic violation and admitted to the officer that his driver’s license was suspended. The officer verified that the man had a prior conviction for driving while suspended and placed him under arrest. The officer then looked under the driver’s seat and found a loaded handgun. The driver admitted the gun was his and was loaded. He was determined to be subject to a firearms ban, due to being convicted as a serious violent felon. He was then charged with possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a Class B felony. No charges were filed on the traffic infractions or the driving while suspended.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence. At the suppression hearing, the officer testified that the search of the vehicle was a combination of a “search prior to…or incident to arrest…but was also an inventory search prior to the tow.” The trial court denied the motion to suppress. At a later bench trial, the defendant again argued that the search was illegal. The State argued that the handgun was admissible under the exception to the warrant requirement as a search incident to arrest. The defendant was convicted and appealed.

The Court of Appeals found that there were no facts to indicate that the officer needed to search the car in order to find and preserve evidence connected to the crime of driving while suspended. The Court also found that all parties were cooperative and that there was no testimony that the officer feared for his safety. The Court cited a recent United States Supreme Court ruling which held that in cases where the recent occupant of a vehicle is arrested for a traffic violation, there will be no reasonable basis to believe the vehicle contains relevant evidence. The defendant’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon was vacated.

If you are charged with a crime involving the illegal possession of drugs or firearms, which were found in your car following a traffic stop, it is important to contact an experienced criminal attorney immediately. If the search was unlawful, the evidence discovered in your car may be inadmissible.