Bentley v. State

Decision Date27 April 2006
Docket NumberNo. 49A02-0508-CR-694.,49A02-0508-CR-694.
Citation846 N.E.2d 300
PartiesKevin BENTLEY, Appellant-Defendant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Robert D. King, Indianapolis, for Appellant.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, J.T. Whitehead, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee.


BAILEY, Judge.

Case Summary

Appellant-Defendant Kevin Bentley ("Bentley") appeals his convictions for possession of cocaine as a Class D felony1 and possession of paraphernalia as a Class D felony.2 We affirm.3


Bentley raises one issue, which we restate as whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain evidence at trial, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Facts and Procedural History

On December 17, 2004, at approximately 4:30 p.m., Speedway Police Officers Michael Clupper ("Officer Clupper") and Todd Peirce ("Officer Peirce") responded to a report from dispatch that "suspicious people had been in the parking lot [at 6120 West 25th Street] for approximately 30 minutes." Tr. at 6. The parking lot in question was located near four businesses, including a Mexican grocery store, laundromat, and tobacco store. The report, which was made from an individual at the tobacco store, indicated that four suspicious individuals were sitting in a large, four-door, dark car, "believed to be a Crown Victoria" or an Oldsmobile. Id. at 33. Officer Clupper was familiar with the Mexican grocery store because, in a timeframe of less than one year, it had been robbed approximately six times and he had personally "taken three of those reports." Id. at 9. In addition, eleven days prior to the incident in question, the tobacco store had been robbed and "there have been numerous thefts" in the area. Id. at 34.

When the officers arrived on scene, they saw a Crown Victoria, matching the dispatch's description, containing three black males, including Bentley. Officer Peirce immediately "went over and spoke to the person who [had] called in the initial complaint." Id. at 34. Meanwhile, Officer Clupper approached the vehicle and questioned the occupants regarding their presence in the parking lot. At this point, Officer Clupper wanted to determine why the individuals were sitting in the parking lot. At the suppression hearing, he testified: "if they [had] said they were in there doing their laundry, fine, we would have gotten in our cars and drove away."4 Id. at 10. However, upon being questioned about their reason for remaining in the parking lot, one of the passengers immediately turned and looked away from Officer Clupper. Officer Clupper considered this movement to be strange and it piqued his "interest even more that something might be wrong there." Id. at 11. Eventually, the driver gave a reason for being in the parking lot, which had nothing to do with the neighboring businesses. The reason, however, did not seem plausible to the officer.

Faced with what he considered to be an implausible story, Officer Clupper requested identification from all three males. The passenger occupying the right-rear seat continued to ignore the officer. At this time, Officer Peirce approached and asked the individuals to keep their hands visible. Officer Peirce asked the defiant passenger to put his hands "up on the seat." Id. at 54. The passenger kept placing his hands "down next to his legs, sort of tucked them in where [the officer] couldn't see what he was doing." Id. At one point, Officer Peirce saw the passenger either stuff something in the seat—where the back rest meets the seat cushion—or grab something and put it underneath his leg.

For safety purposes, the officers ordered everyone out of the car, including Bentley and the driver even though they had complied with the officers' requests. As Bentley exited the car, Officer Peirce saw him "take a crack pipe and stuff it—try to stuff it in the same place where the seats come together." Id. at 55. However, once the car was empty, the officers could see the crack pipe on the back seat, which they recognized from their training and experience. Officer Clupper described the crack pipe as a glass tube, which was burnt on the ends, with a metal screening on one end. This crack pipe contained a small-piece of off-white colored substance, which was later identified as.0075 grams of crack cocaine.

Officer Clupper put Bentley in handcuffs and placed him under arrest. A search incident to arrest revealed another crack pipe inside Bentley's shirt pocket. This pipe, too, "was a glass tube burnt on the end with a metal screening in the end of it." Id. at 50.

As a result of this incident, on or about December 18, 2004, the State charged Bentley with: (1) possession of cocaine as a Class D felony; (2) possession of paraphernalia as a Class A misdemeanor; and (3) possession of paraphernalia as a Class D felony.5 On April 25, 2005, after conducting a hearing, the trial court denied Bentley's motion to suppress evidence seized during the encounter with Officers Clupper and Peirce. On June 13, 2005 and June 20, 2005, the trial court conducted a bench trial, at the conclusion of which, it found Bentley guilty of possessing cocaine as a Class D felony and possessing paraphernalia as a Class D felony. The trial court sentenced Bentley to the Indiana Department of Correction for two terms of three-hundred-and-sixty-five days, to be served concurrently.

Discussion and Decision
I. Standard of Review

On appeal, Bentley argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence. However, because Bentley did not seek an interlocutory appeal after the denial of his motion to suppress, the issue presented is more appropriately framed as whether the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence at trial. Washington v. State, 784 N.E.2d 584, 586-87 (Ind.Ct.App.2003); but see Sellmer v. State, 842 N.E.2d 358, 365 (Ind.2006) (reviewing the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress after trial). A trial court has broad discretion in ruling on the admissibility of evidence. Bradshaw v. State, 759 N.E.2d 271, 273 (Ind.Ct.App.2001). Accordingly, we will reverse a trial court's ruling on the admissibility of evidence only when the trial court abused its discretion. Id. An abuse of discretion involves a decision that is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court. Washington, 784 N.E.2d at 586.

II. Analysis

Bentley contends that the evidence seized during his encounter with Officers Clupper and Peirce is inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In particular, he maintains that "there was no reasonable and articulable suspicion for his detention by [Officer Clupper] and consequently all evidence seized as a result must be suppressed pursuant to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine." Appellant's Br. at 5. Before we address this argument, it is important to clarify that Bentley does not dispute that the officers had probable cause to effectuate his arrest after they had discovered the crack pipe in the vehicle. Nor does he contest the seizure of the crack pipe from his person during the search incident to the arrest or the seizure of the crack pipe from the vehicle, which was in plain view after the evacuation. Instead, his sole contention of error concerns the constitutionality of the initial detention. We now address this narrow claim of error.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides all citizens with "[t]he right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . ." U.S. CONST. amend. IV; see also Black v. State, 810 N.E.2d 713, 715 (Ind.2004). The Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure has been extended to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. See Berry v. State, 704 N.E.2d 462, 464-65 (Ind.1998). The protection against unreasonable seizures includes seizure of the person. California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 624, 111 S.Ct. 1547, 113 L.Ed.2d 690 (1991) (citation omitted). However, not all police-citizen encounters implicate the Fourth Amendment. See, e.g., Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n. 16, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) ("Only when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen may we conclude a `seizure' has occurred."); see also Molino v. State, 546 N.E.2d 1216, 1218 (Ind.1989). A seizure does not occur, for example, simply because a police officer approaches a person, asks questions, or requests identification. Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991); see also Sellmer v. State, 842 N.E.2d 358, 360 (Ind.2006) (recognizing that a person is not seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when police officers merely approach an individual and ask if the individual is willing to answer questions).

Instead, a person is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes when, considering all the surrounding circumstances, the police conduct "would have communicated to a reasonable person that the person was not free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter." Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983) (plurality opinion); see also INS v. Delgado, 466 U.S. 210, 216-17, 104 S.Ct. 1758, 80 L.Ed.2d 247 (1984) ("Unless the circumstances of the encounter are so intimidating as to demonstrate that a reasonable person would have believed he was not free to leave if he had not responded, one cannot say that the questioning resulted in a detention under the Fourth Amendment.").

Applying a version of the U.S. Supreme Court's test, this Court has determined that not "every street encounter between a citizen and the police" is a seizure. Overstreet v. State, 724 N.E.2d 661, 664 (Ind.Ct. App.2000), ...

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