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Robinson v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

March 25, 2014

JOANNA S. ROBINSON, Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee (Plaintiff below)

Appeal from the Elkhart Superior Court, No. 20D05-1110-CM-507. The Honorable Charles Carter Wicks, Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 20A04-1209-CR-561.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Peter D. Todd, Elkhart, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana, Kyle Hunter, James B. Martin, Kelly A. Miklos, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Massa, Justice. Dickson, C.J., and David and Rush, JJ., concur. Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion.


Page 363

Massa, Justice.

As the two companion appeals we resolve today vividly illustrate, sometimes standards of review decide cases.[1] In the instant case, the trial court found law enforcement had reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop and admitted the resulting evidence; in State v. Keck, No. 67S01-1403-CR-179 (Ind. Mar. 25, 2014), the trial court reached the opposite conclusion. We affirm both trial courts and decline appellants'

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invitation to invade the fact-finder's province.

Facts and Procedural History

Around 1:00 a.m. on October 15, 2011, Deputy Casey Claeys of the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department was following another vehicle down County Road 4. Deputy Claeys later testified he saw the vehicle " drive off the right side, which was the south side of the road, twice." Tr. at 24. Immediately after the second incident, he turned on his vehicle camera and initiated a traffic stop for " unsafe lane movement." Tr. at 24. The camera, once activated, retroactively records the previous thirty seconds.

Deputy Claeys later testified that when he approached the vehicle, he noticed the driver, Joanna S. Robinson, " had glossy, blood shot eyes, slurred speech . . . and the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from her breath." Tr. at 26. Upon questioning, Robinson admitted she had drunk one beer, and Deputy Claeys proceeded to conduct standard field sobriety tests on her. After she failed three of the tests, Robinson told Deputy Claeys she had marijuana concealed in her clothing; she then removed the marijuana and dropped it onto the ground. At that point, Deputy Claeys took Robinson into custody and transported her to the Elkhart County Jail, where a chemical test showed her blood-alcohol level was 0.09.

The Elkhart County Prosecutor charged Robinson with three Class A misdemeanors (operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license,[2] possession of marijuana,[3] and operating a vehicle while intoxicated[4] and one Class C misdemeanor (operating with a breath-alcohol level over 0.08[5]). By counsel, Robinson moved to suppress all the evidence against her, arguing Deputy Claeys did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the stop because Robinson " never left her lane of traffic in any form." App. at 23. Pursuant to the parties' agreement, the trial court considered Robinson's motion in conjunction with the evidence presented at her bench trial, which included Deputy Claeys's testimony, blood and breath test evidence, and the video from the camera on Deputy Claeys's vehicle. The trial court also heard final argument from both parties; the State encouraged the court to credit Deputy Claeys's testimony over the videotape, while the defendant urged the opposite.

Ultimately, the trial court denied Robinson's motion to suppress. Citing State v. McCaa, 963 N.E.2d 24, 31 (Ind.Ct.App. 2012) (finding reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop when the defendant drove " slowly and off of the roadway twice" ), the trial court stated it " reviewed the video on approximately ten occasions and cannot conclude from the video that the defendant's vehicle actually left the roadway . . . but it does show the vehicle veering on two occasions onto the white fog line." App. at 33. The trial court noted, however, that it was " quite possible that the officer's actual visual observation of the defendant's vehicle was superior to the video camera in his car." App. at 33. After considering all of this evidence, the trial court concluded this case was " perhaps a closer call" than McCaa, but that " the act of weaving onto the fog line, while not itself an illegal act, did give a trained police officer justification to stop and inquire further as to the driver's condition." App. at 33, 34. The trial court then found Robinson guilty of

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possession of marijuana, operating while intoxicated, and operating with a breath-alcohol level over 0.08. It merged the latter two convictions and sentenced her to one year of imprisonment for each ...

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