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Marion County Gun Conviction Reversed Due to Unreasonable Search

A Marion County man’s Class A misdemeanor conviction for carrying a handgun without a license has been reversed. At appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court determined the impoundment and subsequent search of the man’s vehicle was unreasonable, rendering the handgun found in the vehicle to be inadmissible in court.

While driving in Indianapolis, the man was pulled over by an officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for “multiple equipment problems” with his vehicle. The problems included a damaged rear end, a broken tail light, and a cracked windshield. The man pulled into the parking lot of a Planet Fitness gym, where the officer determined the man’s license was suspended.

IMPD arrested the man for driving while suspended and impounded the vehicle. While conducting an inventory of the vehicle’s contents, the police found a handgun. The man was ultimately convicted by a Marion County judge of Class A misdemeanor driving while suspended and carrying a handgun without a license.

For police to reasonably impound a car, it must be for one of two reasons: it is authorized by either statute or the police’s community-caretaking function, which is discretionary.  
Since the impound was not authorized by statute in this case, police had the burden of demonstrating that two strict standards were met under the community-caretaking function:

       1)    “Consistent with objective standards of sound policing, an officer must believe the vehicle poses a threat of                              harm to the community or is itself imperiled; and
       2)    The officer’s decision to impound adhered to established departmental routine or regulation.”
               In other words, the second standard means the State had to prove that the officer’s decision to impound                                  the vehicle was “consistent with an established IMPD policy or practice.”

At appeal, the Court determined that the officer provided multiple reasons for impounding the vehicle, including the car’s state of disrepair and the fact that it was owned by his sister. However, the officer did not testify to IMPD’s specific procedures for impound, much less how his actions were in accordance with that procedure.

The Court held that without these details, “we cannot evaluate whether this impoundment was a reasonable exercise of the community-caretaking function and not merely pretext for an inventory search.”

Police are held to strict standards when it comes to the search and seizure of your property. If you’re facing criminal charges as a result of a police search in Marion County, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to review the facts of your case. You may have a viable defense.