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J.K. v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 29, 2014

J.K., Appellant-Defendant,
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee-Plaintiff

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APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable Michael A. Shurn, Judge. Cause No. 66C01-1203-JS-1.


ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, Attorney General of Indiana; ANDREW FALK, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ROBB, Judge. CRONE, J., concurs. SHEPARD, S.J., dissents with separate opinion.

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ROBB, Judge

Case Summary and Issue

J.K. appeals the juvenile court's adjudication of J.K. as a delinquent based on acts

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of illegal possession of alcohol, illegal consumption of alcohol, and aiding illegal consumption of alcohol. He raises one issue for our review: whether the trial court admitted evidence against J.K. in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, where law enforcement officers entered J.K's curtilage, conducted a knock and talk lasting approximately one hour, and entered the residence without a warrant. Concluding the officers' entry onto J.K.'s curtilage, their lengthy knock and talk, and eventual residential entry were unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment, we reverse.

Facts and Procedural History[1]

In the early hours of December 22, 2011, the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department received a complaint regarding a disturbance in the vicinity of Decker Drive in Winamac, Indiana. The complainant informed law enforcement that a number of juveniles were pushing a shopping cart through the neighborhood, making noise, and causing dogs to bark. Winamac Police Department Officers Brian Gaillard and Mark Hoffman were dispatched and arrived at J.K's residence at approximately 1:11 a.m. Shortly after, Pulaski County Sheriff's Department Reserve Deputy John Haley arrived on scene. The officers observed several vehicles parked outside the residence, one of which was a pickup truck with a shopping cart in the bed of the truck. The officers suspected the cart had been stolen from an Alco store, which was approximately a mile away. A check on the truck's license plate revealed that the truck belonged to a person who Officer Hoffman knew lived elsewhere.

Officer Hoffman knocked on the front door. In the meantime, Officer Gaillard and Officer Haley went through the yard around either side of the residence to ensure that no one attempted to flee from a back exit. No one answered the door, but Officer Hoffman observed persons moving around inside and peeking through the blinds. When Officer Haley entered the back yard and approached the back door, he was able to see through a window and observed over a dozen empty beer cans and wine cooler bottles on the kitchen counter. Officer Haley went to the front to inform Officer Hoffman of the empty alcohol containers, and when he returned to the back of the house minutes later, he discovered that someone inside the residence had removed the cans and bottles from view.

After ten or fifteen minutes without a response from the occupants, Officer Gaillard called for a tow truck to impound the pickup truck that contained the shopping cart. For an additional forty minutes after calling for the tow, the officers remained on the front porch and in the back yard. Officer Hoffman continued to knock at the front door and yell inside, instructing the occupants to answer the door and telling them the truck would be towed. Officer Gaillard spoke on the phone with a deputy prosecuting attorney, who told him not to impound the pickup truck. The tow truck arrived at 2:04 a.m., before Officer Gaillard had an opportunity to cancel the tow.

Upon arrival of the tow truck, seventeen-year-old T.T., who owned the pickup truck, opened the front door of the residence and stepped outside. T.T. exhibited signs of intoxication, including slurred speech and an odor of alcohol. The officers told T.T. to retrieve the owner of the

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residence, and J.K., also seventeen years old, came to the door. J.K.'s eyes were bloodshot. When J.K. came to the door, he was on the phone with his mother, who owned the residence. J.K.'s mother was over an hour away but was on her way home. Officer Gaillard spoke with J.K.'s mother, and the officers then entered the residence without a warrant and before J.K.'s mother arrived at the home.

The officers performed a search of the residence and found additional evidence of underage drinking, including a number of alcoholic beverage containers. Additional persons found in the residence were all under the age of eighteen, and several of them had alcohol on their breath.

On March 6, 2012, the State filed a delinquency petition, alleging J.K. committed illegal possession of alcohol, illegal consumption of alcohol, and aiding illegal consumption of alcohol, all Class C misdemeanors.

J.K. filed a motion to suppress, and a hearing was held on that motion on November 26, 2012. On December 24, 2012, the trial court issued an order denying J.K.'s motion to suppress. Specifically, the trial court concluded the officers' entry into the residence was justified under the " protective sweep exception" to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Appellant's Appendix at 18. Furthermore, the trial court noted that there was conflicting testimony given as to whether J.K.'s mother gave consent to enter the residence, but the trial court did " not need to reach any conclusion in relation to consent." Id.

A fact finding hearing was held on March 6, 2013, and J.K. was found to be a delinquent child. J.K. filed a motion to correct error, which the trial court denied. On May 20, 2013, the trial court entered its dispositional order. This appeal followed.

Discussion and Decision

J.K. argues that evidence was admitted at his fact finding hearing in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Three warrantless entries merit discussion in this case: (1) entry onto J.K.'s curtilage by Officer Gaillard and Officer Haley; (2) the nearly hour-long span during which the officers remained on J.K.'s front porch and yard, knocking and yelling into the house; and (3) the officers' entry into J.K.'s residence. We will address each of these warrantless entries below.

I. Standard of Review and the Fourth Amendment

Because J.K. brings this appeal following his fact finding hearing, rather than as an interlocutory appeal of the denial of his motion to suppress, we review this appeal as a challenge to the trial court's admission of evidence at the fact finding hearing. Clark v. State, 994 N.E.2d 252, 259-60 (Ind. 2013). A trial court's decision to admit or exclude evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Young v. State, 980 N.E.2d 412, 417 (Ind.Ct.App. 2012). A trial court abuses its discretion when its decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances or when the trial court has misinterpreted the law. Id. The constitutionality of a search is a question of law, which we review de novo. Kelly v. State, 997 N.E.2d 1045, 1050 (Ind. 2013). Similarly, determinations of reasonable suspicion and probable cause are reviewed de novo. Myers v. State, 839 N.E.2d 1146, 1150 (Ind. 2005). When a defendant challenges a warrantless search, it is the State's burden to prove the search fell within an exception to the warrant requirement. Clark, 994 N.E.2d at 260.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees:

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The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that " searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable." Kentucky v. King, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 1856, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011) (citation omitted). In addition, the Supreme Court has held that the curtilage--the area " immediately surrounding and associated with the home" --is " part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes." Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 1414, 185 L.Ed.2d 495 (2013) (quoting Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180, 104 S.Ct. 1735, 80 L.Ed.2d 214 (1984)). Thus, warrantless entry onto one's curtilage is also presumptively unreasonable. However, the Court has said that this presumption may be overcome because the " ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness. Accordingly, the warrant requirement is subject to certain reasonable exceptions." King, 131 S.Ct. at 1856 (citations and quotation marks omitted). Among these recognized exceptions is ...

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