The Court of Appeals reversed a Lafayette, Indiana man’s conviction for possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a Level 4 felony. The Court found that police unlawfully searched the man’s apartment after he had been detained outside.
Lafayette police had received a report from the man’s girlfriend that he had pointed a gun at her and made threatening statements. Officers then went to the apartment to investigate and observed the man exit his apartment and lock the door. Police apprehended him in a common hallway of the apartment building.
Police yelled out for anyone in the apartment to come out. They did not hear any noise. Police then entered the apartment, without a search warrant, to do a protective sweep. A protective sweep is a quick and limited search of premises, incident to arrest and conducted for officer safety. Officers may do a cursory inspection of places in which a person may be hiding. During the search police found a firearm, and the State later charged the man with possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, a Level 4 felony.
At the Tippecanoe County trial, the defendant objected to admitting the gun as evidence, because there was no legitimate safety concern by police to justify searching the apartment. The trial court ruled against the defendant and he was convicted at trial.
The Indiana Court of appeals reversed the conviction. The Court found that the defendant was arrested outside of the apartment, the door was closed and locked at the time of arrest, no one made any noises inside the apartment, and the gun was found in a back bedroom multiple rooms away from the door. As a result, the Court ruled that officers did not have a legitimate safety concern justifying a protective sweep. Therefore, the search was unlawful.
When Can Police Do a Protective Sweep?
Police can do a protective sweep if there is a legitimate concern for officer safety. However, police cannot use a protective sweep as justification to look for drugs or guns. If an officer opens drawers or containers during such a search, it is beyond the scope of a safety check and unlawful.
Many drug and firearms cases result from supposed protective sweeps. If a gun or marijuana, cocaine or other drugs are in a concealed area during a protective search, the seizure may be unlawful. Always remain calm during a police encounter. Actions that create a legitimate concern for officer safety could justify a warrantless search.
Gibson Law Office has extensive experience defending drug and gun cases that resulted after a police search of an apartment, dorm room, or home. If the search was illegal, we can aggressively defend your rights. If you need a Lafayette criminal attorney, contact us today for a free consultation. We have represented clients in more than 70 Indiana counties.