In a recent ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals has stood firm on the standard of reasonable suspicion. In Michael Woodson v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1106-CR-306, the Court established a clear standard for determining if, and when, reasonable suspicion is necessary and satisfied, respectively.
According to the well-established and well known doctrine of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) an officer may conduct a consensual “stop and frisk” questioning, where the officer may conduct a cursory search of the area strictly for the officer’s safety.
In the above case, Defendant Woodson was simply riding his bike in the gas station near Meridian and 38th Street–a known “hot zone” of criminal and drug activity–in Indianapolis, Indiana, near a “suspicious” maroon vehicle. Mr. Woodson, along with the nearby vehicle were detained near the gas station. It was unclear for what reason the vehicle and Mr. Woodson were detained, if any. Mr. Woodson did appear “loud” and “belligerent” toward the officer, but offered no clear threat to the officer’s safety. The officer then placed Mr. Woodson in handcuffs (allegedly in the interest of officer safety) and began asking him questions and proceeded to search Mr. Woodson’s backpack. In the backpack, the officer found a series of DVD’s in generic white sleeves, which were found to be bootlegged copies of movies then currently in theaters. Mr. Woodson was charged with two (2) counts of D Felony Fraud and was convicted.
The Indiana Court of Appeals reasoned that 1) the necessary elements for the consensual Terry “stop and frisk” were not met, and that 2) the officer lacked “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a search under the Fourth Amendment or the Indiana Constitution, Article 1, Section 11. According to the Court, “reasonable suspicion” requires, “some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity. A mere ‘hunch’ is insufficient. [The officer must have a] particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing.”
Because the Court reasoned that the Officer violated Mr. Woodson’s Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 Rights, the Court reversed the Trial Court’s order denying the suppression of the evidence. Because the offense(s) in question rested solely on the suppressed evidence, the Court reversed Mr. Woodson’s conviction in its entirety.
This opinion comes as a breath of fresh air. After all the Indiana Supreme Court has done to erode our Constitutional right against search and seizure, the Indiana Court of Appeals got one right.