Mitchell v. State

Citation745 N.E.2d 775
Decision Date16 April 2001
Docket NumberNo. 49S00-9906-CR-343.,49S00-9906-CR-343.
PartiesPaul MITCHELL, Defendant-Appellant, v. STATE of Indiana, Plaintiff-Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

John Pinnow, Greenwood, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General of Indiana, Randi E. Froug, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

DICKSON, Justice

Paul Mitchell was convicted of dealing cocaine, a class A felony,1 and carrying a handgun without a license, a class A misdemeanor,2 and he was sentenced as a habitual offender.3 In this direct appeal, he claims (1) violations of the state and federal constitutional provisions prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure and (2) insufficient evidence to support his conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.

I. Search and Seizure

The defendant contends that the circumstances of his apprehension and arrest violated his rights to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure and that the resulting evidence should have been excluded. He filed a pretrial motion to suppress evidence and made timely trial objections. He argues that the trial court erred in admitting evidence obtained after a pretextual traffic stop and after a subsequent search pursuant to a warrant. He presents and argues separate claims under the state and federal constitutions. His assertions arise from the following facts.

An Indianapolis hotel manager who suspected that a guest may be trafficking in drugs informed police that a guest, Paul Mitchell, paid cash for his room for over two weeks, gave a local address, asked to be registered as an anonymous person, and asked that the hotel not disclose his presence. Detective Chris Heffner, who had investigated Mitchell a few months earlier for allegedly dealing cocaine from a hotel room, established surveillance of Mitchell's room. During the surveillance, Heffner observed Mitchell arrive and join a female already in the room, and saw Mitchell and this female companion exit Mitchell's hotel room. As they left the hotel, Mitchell's companion was carrying a briefcase. Other police detectives, watching from an unmarked truck, observed Mitchell and his companion enter the hotel parking lot. They observed Mitchell carrying a briefcase. He and his companion got into a white Mercury Cougar automobile. Officer Chris Boomershine, in uniform and driving a marked squad car, was waiting nearby to follow them. He had participated in Heffner's prior narcotics investigation of Mitchell and an 18 year-old female companion, Deandra Miller, three months earlier and knew that a weapon had been recovered from Miller during this prior investigation.4 As Mitchell's car drove away, both surveillance units followed. When Officer Boomershine observed Mitchell's vehicle fail to come to a complete stop, he notified Detective Heffner by radio, and Heffner instructed Boomershine to "go ahead and stop the vehicle and treat it as a regular traffic stop." Record at 302. Officer Boomershine activated his siren and lights, signaled the driver to pull over, and he complied. Upon approaching the driver of the Cougar, Boomershine recognized him as Mitchell, the person he and Detective Heffner had previously investigated. Upon Boomershine's request, Mitchell provided his driver's license and a rental agreement for the automobile. Officer Boomershine observed that Mitchell appeared nervous and seemed "extremely concerned as to why I stopped him," and was "somewhat relieved" when told he had been stopped for a stop sign violation. Supp. Record at 126. Mitchell replied "Oh, I—I didn't see the stop sign." Id. Boomershine then asked Mitchell to step out of the car. Mitchell complied, and the officer then patted down Mitchell's exterior clothing and found no weapon but discerned by feel what he believed was ammunition in Mitchell's left front jacket pocket.

Officer Boomershine then approached Mitchell's passenger, Deandra Miller, who he recognized as Mitchell's companion in the prior investigation. Recalling that Miller had been carrying a weapon during the earlier investigation, the officer asked her if she had any firearms, and she responded "maybe." Supp. Record at 128. When Boomershine stated, "For my safety, I need the firearm," id., Miller picked up her purse from the floor of the car and opened it to the officer, revealing a loaded.380 semiautomatic handgun and two bags of green plant material. When Miller advised Boomershine that she did not have a gun permit, he arrested her, handcuffing both Mitchell and Miller, and placed them in the back of his patrol car at approximately 2:50 p.m., about twenty minutes after the traffic stop commenced. The officer then issued Mitchell a traffic ticket for the stop sign violation. Although the precise time or sequence is not clear from the record, Officer Boomershine radioed the results of his stop to Detective Heffner who instructed him to detain Mitchell and Miller, to transport them to the Marion County Sheriff's Department, and place them in an interview room while Heffner would seek a search warrant. Boomershine found seven rounds of .357 ammunition in Mitchell's coat. As one of the detectives from the unmarked truck got into and drove the Cougar back to the hotel parking lot, she noticed the butt of a gun protruding from underneath the driver's seat and the gun sliding around on the floor as she drove the car. With commendable caution and respect for the right of all people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, the officers did not immediately seize the gun nor proceed to search the vehicle or the hotel room.

Instead, Detective Heffner prepared a probable cause affidavit to search the hotel room and the Cougar and obtained a search warrant. The search warrant was issued at 4:05 p.m. Heffner returned to the hotel and, executing the warrant beginning at approximately 4:30 p.m., he searched the car and found a loaded .357 revolver under the driver's seat, plastic bags containing 12.6270 grams of cocaine base (crack cocaine) and 26.8195 grams of powder cocaine, and $4,522 in cash in the briefcase in the trunk. Heffner arrested Mitchell after completing the searches of the automobile and hotel room. Before his formal arrest, Mitchell was detained for approximately 100 minutes after he was placed in handcuffs.

A. Fourth Amendment

Challenging the validity of the traffic stop and weapons frisk, the length of detention, and the validity of the search warrant, the defendant contends that extensive evidence should have been excluded under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The defendant acknowledges that under the Fourth Amendment the traffic stop was valid regardless of whether it was a pretext for an investigation into drug activity and that police were authorized to order him to exit the vehicle. See Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 1774, 135 L.Ed.2d 89, 98 (1996); Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977). He argues, however, that the officer's attendant frisk and pat-down was not justified and that the officer's actions exceeded those permissible for a traffic stop.

A routine traffic stop "is more analogous to a so-called `Terry stop' ... than to a formal arrest." Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113, 117, 119 S.Ct. 484, 488, 142 L.Ed.2d 492, 498 (1998) (quoting Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 437, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 3150, 82 L.Ed.2d 317, 334 (1984)). The United States Supreme Court has recognized, however, that, due to the greater danger to an officer from a traffic stop when there are passengers present in addition to the driver of the stopped car, an officer making a traffic stop may order passengers to get out of the car pending completion of the stop. Wilson, 519 U.S. at 414-15, 117 S.Ct. at 886, 137 L.Ed.2d at 48. While the concern for officer safety may justify the additional intrusion of ordering a driver and passengers out of the car, a routine traffic stop "does not by itself justify the often considerably greater intrusion attending a full field-type search." Knowles, 525 U.S. at 117,119 S.Ct. at 488,142 L.Ed.2d at 498. An officer may perform a Terry "pat-down" of a driver or any passenger if he has reasonable suspicion that they may be armed and dangerous. Id. at 118, 119 S.Ct. at 488, 142 L.Ed.2d at 498. Balancing the "neutralization of danger to the policeman in the investigative circumstances and the sanctity of the individual," the Terry court concluded that there is a

narrowly drawn authority to permit a reasonable search for weapons for the protection of the police officer, where he has reason to believe that he is dealing with an armed and dangerous individual, regardless of whether he has probable cause to arrest the individual for a crime. The officer need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed; the issue is whether a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger. And in determining whether the officer acted reasonably in such circumstances, due weight must be given, not to his inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or "hunch," but to the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience.

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1883, 20 L.Ed.2d 889, 909 (1968) (citations and footnote omitted). The search must be "strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation." Id. at 26, 88 S.Ct. at 1882, 20 L.Ed.2d at 908. "And in justifying the particular intrusion, the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion." Id. at 21, 88 S.Ct. at 1880, 20 L.Ed.2d at 906.

Under the Fourth Amendment, therefore, Officer Boomershine was entitled to make the traffic stop to issue a traffic citation, and to require...

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