State v. Quirk, 30S01-0410-CR-458.

CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
Citation842 N.E.2d 334
Docket NumberNo. 30S01-0410-CR-458.,30S01-0410-CR-458.
PartiesSTATE of Indiana, Appellant (Plaintiff below), v. Thomas A. QUIRK, Appellee (Defendant below).
Decision Date14 February 2006

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Zachary J. Stock, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellant.

Gregory A. Brand, Greenfield, for Appellee.


RUCKER, Justice.

Case Summary

Defendant Thomas A. Quirk was charged with dealing in cocaine as a Class A felony in violation of Ind.Code § 35-48-4-1 and possession of cocaine as a Class C felony in violation of Ind.Code § 35-48-4-6. After a hearing the trial court granted Quirk's motion to suppress evidence seized by law enforcement officers during a search of his truck following a routine traffic stop. On appeal the Court of Appeals reversed. Concluding that the law enforcement officers' search was not reasonable within the meaning of Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, we now affirm the trial court's judgment.

Facts and Procedural History

The facts in this case are undisputed. In the early morning hours of March 17, 2001, Thomas A. Quirk was traveling eastbound on Interstate Highway 70 through Hancock County, driving a semi tractor-trailer. Indiana State Trooper Timothy Denny observed that one of the headlights on Quirk's truck was out. While pursuing another vehicle for speeding, Trooper Denny radioed a fellow Trooper in the area and gave him the headlight information. Responding to the call, State Trooper Mitchell Blocher activated his emergency lights and pulled Quirk over at the entrance ramp to a rest area. After explaining why he had initiated the traffic stop, Trooper Blocher obtained Quirk's driver's license, registration, logbook and bill of lading. The Trooper found nothing unusual about the registration and logbook, and the bill of lading reported that Quirk was traveling from Arizona to West Virginia with a cargo of lettuce. Directing Quirk to accompany him to the patrol car, Trooper Blocher sat in the driver's seat and Quirk sat in the front passenger seat. Trooper Blocher then began writing a warning ticket for the unilluminated headlight. As a part of the ticket writing process, Trooper Blocher conducted a check on his laptop computer of Quirk's driving record. The check revealed no outstanding warrants and a valid driver's license issued by the State of California. However, the information on the Trooper's computer screen indicated that Quirk was known under three different aliases. When questioned, Quirk replied that he had "used aliases a long time ago because he had problems with his [driver's] license." Tr. at 39. Using his police radio Trooper Blocher contacted the State Police Post and requested that a "Triple I" (criminal history) check of Quirk be conducted.

Hearing the Triple I request over his own radio, Trooper Denny came to the scene, exited his patrol car, got into the back seat of Trooper Blocher's car and sat directly behind Quirk. At that point the response to the criminal history check came on Trooper Blocher's cellular telephone. Still completing paperwork for the warning ticket, Trooper Blocher handed the phone to Trooper Denny. The dispatcher advised Trooper Denny that Quirk's criminal history consisted of "four to six entries for possibly trafficking in narcotics." Tr. at 117-18. All entries were dated between 1970 and 1988. Tr. at 118. Trooper Denny then asked Quirk if he had ever been arrested, to which Quirk responded that he had once been an enforcer for a union and during that period he was arrested for battery. Tr. at 118-19. Trooper Blocher then gave Quirk a warning ticket for the headlight and advised Quirk that he was free to leave.

As Quirk walked toward his truck Trooper Denny told Trooper Blocher about Quirk's criminal history. Trooper Blocher then called to Quirk and said that he wanted to ask a few more questions. Quirk complied and the three men got back into Trooper Blocher's patrol car. The questions centered on whether Quirk was carrying any illegal substances, to which Quirk responded that he was not. Trooper Blocher then asked to search the trailer portion of the truck, and Quirk consented. Conducting the search, Trooper Denny confirmed that the trailer contained a cargo of lettuce. Although the record is not altogether clear, apparently Trooper Denny then asked Quirk for consent to search the cabin portion of the tractor. Quirk declined and the Troopers once again allowed him to leave. Quirk then entered his truck, drove into the rest area, exited the truck, and went inside the building to use the facilities.

In the meantime, both Troopers followed Quirk into the rest area, and Trooper Blocher radioed for a drug-sniffing dog. As Quirk exited the building, the Troopers approached Quirk and informed him that although he was free to leave, the truck would have to remain. Approximately twenty minutes later other officers began arriving on the scene including a canine unit. Circling the truck, a drug-sniffing dog alerted to the presence of a controlled substance in the cabin area of the tractor. A subsequent search revealed a white powdery substance later identified as cocaine.

Quirk was arrested and ultimately charged with dealing in cocaine as a Class A felony and possession of cocaine as a Class C felony. Prior to trial Quirk timely moved to suppress the cocaine. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted Quirk's motion. In a detailed nine-page order setting forth the evidence presented in the case, the trial court concluded that the reasons put forth by the law enforcement officers either separately or collectively did not amount to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Upon the State's request the trial court certified its order for interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction. The State argued the trial court erred in granting Quirk's motion because Trooper Blocher, who stopped the defendant's truck for a routine traffic infraction, developed reasonable suspicion to detain Quirk in order to permit a dog sniff of his truck. Quirk countered that the trial court was correct in granting his motion to suppress, arguing that the cocaine was properly excluded because the search that uncovered it was the result of an unreasonable detention. In an unpublished memorandum decision the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment. See State v. Quirk, 812 N.E.2d 874 (Ind.Ct.App.2004). Having previously granted transfer, we now affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Quirk contends the search of his truck offends the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Quirk presents separate authority supporting both claims. We decline to address Quirk's federal constitutional argument and respond to his State claim only.

Article I, Section 11 provides, "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search or seizure, shall not be violated. . . ." The purpose of this article is to protect from unreasonable police activity those areas of life that Hoosiers regard as private. Moran v. State, 644 N.E.2d 536, 540 (Ind.1994). The provision must receive a liberal construction in its application to guarantee the people against unreasonable search and seizure. Brown v. State, 653 N.E.2d 77, 79 (Ind. 1995). In resolving challenges asserting a Section 11 violation, courts must consider the circumstances presented in each case to determine "whether the police behavior was reasonable." Id. We place the burden on the State to show that under the totality of the circumstances its intrusion was reasonable. State v. Bulington, 802 N.E.2d 435, 438 (Ind.2004). Thus, we are called upon to determine whether the law enforcement officers' detention of Quirk in order to conduct a dog sniff of his truck was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.


Our standard of appellate review of a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress is similar to other sufficiency issues. Taylor v. State, 689 N.E.2d 699, 702 (Ind. 1997). The record must disclose substantial evidence of probative value that supports the trial court's decision. Id. We do not reweigh the evidence, and we consider conflicting evidence most favorably to the trial court's ruling. Id.

Quirk does not contend that the initial stop of his truck was in violation of the Constitution, nor could he do so. "[P]olice officers may stop a vehicle when they observe minor traffic violations." Black v. State, 621 N.E.2d 368, 370 (Ind. Ct.App.1993). A traffic violation, however minor, creates probable cause to stop the driver of the vehicle. Here, Trooper Blocher's observation that Quirk was operating his tractor-trailer with an unilluminated headlight justified the initial stop in the case. This intrusion cannot be considered unreasonable.

Quirk's essential claim is that his detention after he was first advised that he was free to leave violated his Article 1, Section 11 right against unreasonable searches and seizures. A police stop and brief detention of a motorist is reasonable and permitted under Section 11 if the officer reasonably suspects that the motorist is engaged in, or about to engage in, illegal activity. Mitchell v. State, 745 N.E.2d 775, 786 (Ind.2001). Section 11 permits an officer, during an investigatory stop, to detain a motorist briefly only as necessary to complete the officer's work related to the illegality for which the motorist was stopped. Id. at 788. Where an officer stops a vehicle for a traffic violation, a request for the driver's license and vehicle registration, a license plate check, a request to search the driver's vehicle and an inquiry regarding whether the driver has a weapon in...

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