Clark v. State

Decision Date17 September 2013
Docket NumberNo. 20S05–1301–CR–10.,20S05–1301–CR–10.
Citation994 N.E.2d 252
PartiesKevin M. CLARK, Appellant (Defendant below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court


Marielena Duerring, South Bend, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana, Brian Reitz, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 20A05–1202–CR–62

DAVID, Justice.

When two police officers encountered three men in a self-storage facility and ordered them to the ground, the men were protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. When those protections were violated, the evidence obtained as a result was tainted and should have been suppressed at a subsequent trial of one of the men. Because that evidence was instead admitted after the violation of the man's federal constitutional rights, we must now reverse his conviction and remand.

Facts and Procedural History

Robert Dunlap owned a self-storage facility in Elkhart County, Indiana. He began to suspect that a renter of one of his twenty-four-hour climate-controlled storage units, Dennis Collins, was living in his storage unit in violation of the rental agreement. On the evening of August 25, 2009, Dunlap confronted Collins about his suspicions, but Collins denied living in the unit. Later that same night, Dunlap returned to the storage facility and noticed several cars parked behind the climate-controlled building. He then called the police to request assistance in helping him remove Collins from the facility.

Sergeant Michael McHenry of the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department responded to Dunlap's call shortly after midnight the morning of August 26. Sergeant McHenry requested another officer to assist and was joined a few minutes later by Officer Dustin Lundgren. The two officers and Dunlap entered the storage building and encountered three individuals outside Collins's storage unit—Collins, James Eller, and Kevin Clark. Clark was carrying a black bag that he then dropped to the ground.

The officers ordered Collins, Eller, and Clark to sit on the ground and identify themselves. They then began to question Clark about the contents of the black bag, and specifically whether it contained any narcotics or contraband. Clark eventually admitted that there was marijuana in the bag, and Sergeant McHenry opened the bag and searched it. The search revealed a butane lighter, clear plastic baggies, pill bottles, methamphetamine, pseudoephedrine pills, and a digital scale. The presence of these items led Sergeant McHenry to believe that Clark was dealing in a controlled substance.

The officers continued questioning Clark, during which Clark told them that his car was on the property. Sergeant McHenry located the vehicle backed up behind the storage building; as he approached he noted that the windows were down and the interior of the car smelled like burnt marijuana. He searched the interior of the vehicle and then opened the trunk with Clark's keys, concerned that there might be an active meth lab inside. Upon opening the trunk he immediately smelled ammonia—a common smell around methamphetamine manufacturing—and found a large tool box. He removed the toolbox from the trunk, opened it, and found what he believed was inactive equipment for manufacturing methamphetamine. He then returned the toolbox to the trunk and closed the trunk lid.

Sergeant McHenry then went to his patrol car and got his K9 partner Falco, a certified narcotics detection dog. Sergeant McHenry returned to Clark's car and walked Falco around it. The K9 alerted to the exterior of the car and Sergeant McHenry found a half-burned marijuana cigarette on the top of the trunk, where the window met the trunk lid, that the officers had missed in their initial search. At that point Sergeant McHenry stopped his search, drafted a search warrant for authorization to search Clark's car, and contacted the Indiana State Police for assistance investigating and clearing the meth lab. Officer Lundgren then took Clark into custody and transported him to jail.

Clark was not read his Miranda1 rights until Officer Lundgren did so while driving him to jail. He did not consent to the search of the black bag. Officer Lundgren asked Clark to consent to the search of his vehicle after the trunk had already been opened, the meth lab discovered in the closed toolbox, and the contents of the trunk replaced. Clark refused.

The State charged Clark with Dealing in Methamphetamine as a class B felony, 2 Possession or Sale of Drug Precursors as a class D felony,3 and Possession of Marijuana as a class A misdemeanor.4 It later amended the first count to a class A felony alleging a total weight of methamphetamine at more than three grams,5 and then amended it again to Attempted Dealing in Methamphetamine as a class A felony.6

Against the trial judge's recommendation, Clark initially elected to represent himself and requested only stand-by counsel. He filed a motion to suppress his confession as well as the evidence found in the black bag and in his trunk. After a series of hearings, discovery requests, and depositions, the trial court denied his motion.7 Clark then reconsidered his decision to proceed pro se and requested a public defender. One was appointed for him and Clark's counsel properly renewed his objections at trial.

At trial, the State introduced evidence that the weight of the methamphetamine found in Clark's bag was 1.22 grams, additional methamphetamine powder found in the tool box from Clark's trunk weighed 1.39 grams, and the collective weight of the 192 pseudoephedrine pills from Clark's bag weighed 28.07 grams. As evidence that Clark was attempting to manufacture more than three grams of methamphetamine, the State called Indiana State Trooper Maggie Shortt, who was assigned to a special methamphetamine suppression unit. Trooper Shortt testified, over Clark's objection, that the manufacturing method present in Clark's trunk would, she expected, typically yield a weight in methamphetamine of roughly fifty percent the amount of pseudoephedrine. The jury found Clark guilty as charged and he received a forty-five year sentence.

Clark appealed, arguing that his motion to suppress was improperly denied and that Trooper Shortt should not have been allowed to testify with respect to a conversion ratio of pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine. (Appellant's Br. at 1.) The Court of Appeals affirmed. Clark v. State, 977 N.E.2d 459 (Ind.Ct.App.2012). We granted transfer, Clark v. State, 980 N.E.2d 325 (Ind.2013) (table), thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion, Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

Standard of Review

We review the denial of a motion to suppress in a manner similar to reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence. Holder v. State, 847 N.E.2d 930, 935 (Ind.2006). We consider only the evidence favorable to the trial court's ruling, alongside substantial uncontradicted evidence to the contrary, to decide if that evidence is sufficient to support the denial. Id.

However, though Clark presents this appeal as the denial of a motion to suppress, his case proceeded to trial where he renewed his objection to the admission of this evidence. In such an instance “the question of whether the trial court erred in denying a motion to suppress is no longer viable.” Cochran v. State, 843 N.E.2d 980, 982 (Ind.Ct.App.2006), trans. denied, cert. denied. [A] ruling on a pretrial motion to suppress is not intended to serve as the final expression concerning admissibility.” Joyner v. State, 678 N.E.2d 386, 393 (Ind.1997) (quoting Gajdos v. State, 462 N.E.2d 1017, 1022 (Ind.1984)). Direct review of the denial of a motion to suppress is only proper when the defendant files an interlocutory appeal. 8See Kelley v. State, 825 N.E.2d 420, 424 (Ind.Ct.App.2005). In Clark's case, the appeal is best framed as challenging the admission of evidence at trial.9Id.

The general admission of evidence at trial is a matter we leave to the discretion of the trial court. Nicholson v. State, 963 N.E.2d 1096, 1099 (Ind.2012). We review these determinations for abuse of that discretion and reverse only when admission is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances and the error affects a party's substantial rights. Id.


The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects persons from unreasonable search and seizure by prohibiting, as a general rule, searches and seizures conducted without a warrant supported by probable cause. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Berry v. State, 704 N.E.2d 462, 464–65 (Ind.1998). As a deterrent mechanism, evidence obtained in violation of this rule is generally not admissible in a prosecution against the victim of the unlawful search or seizure absent evidence of a recognized exception. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 649–55, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961) (extending exclusionary rule to state court proceedings). It is the State's burden to prove that one of these well-delineated exceptions is satisfied. Berry, 704 N.E.2d at 465.

Here, the officers encountered Clark, Collins, and Eller and after a short period of time Clark admitted that there was marijuana in the black bag that he had been carrying. When the officers searched the bag they found not only marijuana but items indicating that Clark might be involved in dealing methamphetamine. This led the officers to Clark's car, from which they could detect the smell of burnt marijuana coming out of open windows. Concerned that there was an active methamphetamine lab in the car, the officers unlocked the vehicle's trunk, removed a rolling case capable of holding a portable meth lab and searched it. Finding the lab inactive, they replaced it, closed the trunk, and then conducted another search of the car using a K9 officer.

We agree with the State that Clark's admission that there was marijuana in his bag gave the officers probable cause to...

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