Houser v. State

Decision Date26 February 1997
Docket NumberNo. 18S00-9504-CR-459,18S00-9504-CR-459
Citation678 N.E.2d 95
PartiesAdam L. HOUSER Appellant (Defendant below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Geoffrey A. Rivers, Quirk & Rivers, Muncie, for Appellant.

Pamela Carter, Attorney General, Preston W. Black, Deputy Attorney General, Office of Attorney General, Indiana Government Center South, Indianapolis, for Appellees.

BOEHM, Justice.

Defendant Adam L. Houser was convicted of felony murder and was sentenced to sixty years in prison. In this direct appeal, he raises several issues for our review:

I. Did the trial court err in admitting evidence seized pursuant to an allegedly illegal search of Houser's business?

II. Did the trial court err in admitting statements Houser made to police both before and after receiving Miranda warnings?

III. Did the trial court err in admitting drug paraphernalia as evidence of motive?

IV. Was the evidence sufficient to support a conviction for felony murder?

We affirm.

Factual & Procedural Background

On November 8, 1993 John Murphy, eighty-eight years old, was found dead in his bedroom in Muncie, a victim of a gruesome murder. Murphy sustained multiple blows to the head with a hard object. Houser was charged with the murder a few days later.

Houser owned and operated Lee's Automotive, an auto repair business located a few blocks from Murphy's house. Murphy sold cars for part of his income and sometimes used Houser as his mechanic. Houser was an admitted drug user, and Mark White was a drug dealer who had sold Houser cocaine in the past. Approximately three days before the murder, Houser asked White to help Houser rob Murphy to obtain money for cocaine purchases. White never affirmatively refused but testified that he "blew it off" and wanted no part of the scheme. The day after the murder, Houser told White that he had robbed and killed Murphy and had left clothes worn during the murder at Lee's Automotive. Houser also revealed that he had hidden Murphy's money in the ceiling above Houser's office at Lee's Automotive. White was arrested on unrelated charges a few days later and, believing Houser was flush with cash from the robbery, asked Houser to bail him out of jail. When Houser refused, White reported Houser's role in Murphy's murder to the police.

Armed with White's statements, the police obtained a search warrant for Lee's Automotive. Officers arrived at the repair shop at approximately 6 p.m. on November 12, 1993 to execute the warrant. Houser, who was present when the police arrived, had a conversation with officers as the search was conducted. In this dialog, Houser denied any involvement in Murphy's murder and said his statements to White about committing the murder and hiding the money at Lee's Automotive were a "big lie." About fifteen to twenty minutes into the conversation, but before he was formally arrested, police read Houser his Miranda rights. At some point the officers found Murphy's wallet, without any cash, in the ceiling. They also seized drug paraphernalia and several objects with blood on them, including gloves, Houser's jeans, and a ball-peen hammer. The precise sequence of these events is unclear. It is clear that upon finding Murphy's billfold, police arrested Houser and took him to the Muncie police station.

That evening while in custody Houser gave a videotaped statement in which he described his version of events on the night of the murder. Houser claimed he and White picked up a hammer, pry bar and gloves from Lee's Automotive, broke into Murphy's house in the middle of the night, robbed and murdered Murphy, and made off with an undisclosed sum of money that they shared. Houser asserted that White actually carried out the killing with the hammer as Houser watched. While in jail awaiting trial, Houser described to cellmate Rodney Johnson how the murder was carried out, indicating he, and not White, hit Murphy on the head with a hammer. Houser told Johnson that White agreed to the plan but backed out, and that Houser wanted to frame White for the murder. Houser stated the motive for the robbery was to steal money to repay debts to a drug dealer. In testifying in his own defense, Houser offered yet another version of events, asserting he was not involved in the killing as participant or spectator.

A jury convicted Houser of felony murder and burglary resulting in serious bodily injury. The trial court merged the burglary count into the murder conviction and sentenced Houser to sixty years in prison. Houser appeals. We have jurisdiction under Indiana Appellate Rule 4(A)(7).

I. Validity of the Search Warrant

Before trial Houser unsuccessfully moved to suppress all physical evidence seized from Lee's Automotive, asserting the search was illegal because it had been based on an invalid warrant. Houser argues the warrant was defective because it contained the wrong street address, did not describe in detail the property that was to be seized, and failed to comply with the probable cause requirements of IND.CODE § 35-33-5-2. In particular, Houser claims that White's reliability was not established and, therefore, White's report to the police was not a sufficient basis for a determination of probable cause. Houser also argues that officers exceeded the authorized scope of the search by seizing items not named in the warrant.

The search in this case was carried out pursuant to a warrant issued by a magistrate. The trial court ruled that the warrant was issued with probable cause, and we are called upon to review that ruling.

A. Standard of review on appeal.

A search warrant issued in this state must meet both federal constitutional requirements and the express statutory terms of IND.CODE § 35-33-5-2. We first address the degree of deference to be accorded two judicial rulings: the magistrate's decision that probable cause existed to support issuing the warrant, and the trial court's decision to uphold that determination. As the U.S. Supreme Court has directed, the reviewing court is to focus on whether a "substantial basis" existed for a warrant authorizing the search or seizure, and doubtful cases are to be resolved in favor of upholding the warrant. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 236-39, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2331-32, 76 L.Ed.2d 527, 547-48 (1983). "Reviewing court" for these purposes includes both the trial court ruling on a motion to exclude the seized evidence and the appellate court reviewing that decision. Some confusion has been expressed as to the standard of review to be applied by an appellate court in reviewing the trial court's evaluation of the magistrate's action. 1 However, de novo appellate review of a trial court's "substantial basis" determination has been followed by this Court without explicitly discussing the point. See, e.g., Beverly v. State, 543 N.E.2d 1111, 1114 (Ind.1989); Seltzer v. State, 489 N.E.2d 939, 941 (Ind.1986). That is the correct standard. Because both the appellate and trial courts are reviewing the paper record submitted to the magistrate, there is no reason for appellate courts to defer to the trial court's finding that a substantial basis existed for issuing the warrant.

The issue next becomes the degree of deference to the magistrate's determination required of this Court by the substantial basis test. Commentators have debated the point without clear resolution, comparing that standard to "clear error" and "substantial evidence." 2 Gates itself did not elaborate on the meaning of substantial basis beyond noting that review should not be de novo and that the magistrate's findings are to be accorded "great deference." Gates, 462 U.S. at 236, 103 S.Ct. at 2331. More recently, in Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 1661-62, 134 L.Ed.2d 911, 919 (1996)--a case involving warrantless searches--the Supreme Court noted that the existence of probable cause is a mixed question of law and fact, whether a court or issuing magistrate is making the determination. One reading of Ornelas would suggest that where deference to a probable-cause determination is required, abuse of discretion is the proper standard. Ornelas, 517 U.S. at ---- n. 3, 116 S.Ct. at 1661 n. 3, 134 L.Ed.2d at 918 n. 3. 3 However, Gates itself chose "substantial basis," which suggests something less deferential than abuse of discretion. Moreover, abuse of discretion is a widely used term that, if intended by Gates, would presumably have been adopted explicitly. This Court has already determined that significant deference to the magistrate's ruling is appropriate but has not sought to refine that point. 4 Whatever the ultimate resolution of the issue, we need not deal with the niceties in the explication of "substantial basis" to decide this case. It is clear that substantial basis requires the reviewing court, with significant deference to the magistrate's determination, to focus on whether reasonable inferences drawn from the totality of the evidence support the determination. As explained below, under any even slightly deferential standard the warrant was proper.

B. The warrant conformed with Indiana law and was issued with a substantial basis.

White's account to police was the principal basis for the probable cause affidavit. Houser contends that White's credibility as an informant was never established. Upon receiving a request for a search warrant, the task of the issuing magistrate is to make a common sense determination, based on the totality of the circumstances, that there is a fair probability that a particular place contains evidence of a crime. Gates, 462 U.S. at 238, 103 S.Ct. at 2332. In addition to these federal constitutional requirements, Indiana has prescribed by statute the minimum information that must be presented to show probable cause. When based on hearsay, as here, the affidavit must "contain reliable information establishing the credibility of the source and of each of the declarants of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
119 cases
  • Anthem Ins. Companies v. Tenet Healthcare Corp.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • June 8, 2000
    ...court to determine the existence of the jurisdictional facts, and should review the trial court's decision de novo. Cf. Houser v. State, 678 N.E.2d 95, 98 (Ind.1997) ("Because both the appellate and trial courts are reviewing the paper record submitted to the magistrate, there is no reason ......
  • Membres v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • June 27, 2008
    ...the totality of the circumstances ... there is a fair probability that a particular place contains evidence of a crime." Houser v. State, 678 N.E.2d 95, 99 (Ind.1997). As the reviewing court, our duty is to determine whether "reasonable inferences drawn from the totality of the evidence sup......
  • Overstreet v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • February 24, 2003
    ...of the evidence support the determination' of probable cause." Figert, 686 N.E.2d at 827 (alteration in original) (citing Houser v. State, 678 N.E.2d 95, 99 (Ind.1997)). In this case, the information included in the warrant affidavit was more than adequate to establish the requisite probabl......
  • Johnson v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • March 9, 1998
    ...standard for granting an order of this nature is a showing of "probable cause." See Ind.Code § 35-33-5-2(b) (Supp.1984); Houser v. State, 678 N.E.2d 95, 99 (Ind.1997); Utley v. State, 589 N.E.2d 232, 236 (Ind.1992); Nettles v. State, 565 N.E.2d 1064, 1067 (Ind.1991). However, for the reason......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT