Appeal from the Marion Superior Court. The Honorable Jose D. Salinas, Judge. Case No. 49G14-1208-FD-54147.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Heath Y. Johnson, Suzy St. John, Johnson, Gray & MacAbee, Franklin, Indiana.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Larry D. Allen, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Crone, Judge. Mathias, J., and Bradford, J., concur.
[¶ 1] Antonio Garcia appeals his conviction for class D felony possession of a schedule III controlled substance (a hydrocodone/acetaminophen pill). He argues that the pill found in a container discovered in his pants pocket during a search incident to arrest was taken in contravention of his state constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure and was therefore inadmissible. Specifically, he contends that even though he was lawfully arrested and the search of his person incident to arrest was reasonable, it was unreasonable for the police to open the container. We conclude that the search of the container was unreasonable under the Indiana Constitution, and therefore the pill was inadmissible. Accordingly, we reverse Garcia's conviction.
Facts and Procedural History
[¶ 2] On August 6, 2012, just before 9:00 p.m., Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Philip Robinett saw Garcia driving a white Chevrolet Trailblazer. Although it was dusk, Garcia did not have the car's headlights on. Garcia also failed to signal when he moved from the travel lane to park along the street. Officer Robinett turned on his emergency lights to make a traffic stop. When he stopped behind Garcia, Garcia got out of his car. Officer Robinett ordered him to get back into the car, and Garcia complied. Officer Robinett approached the driver's side of Garcia's vehicle and an assisting officer approached the passenger side. They saw that Garcia was alone in the car. Garcia's first language is Spanish. Officer Robinett does not speak Spanish. Officer Robinett testified that communication was a " little bit more difficult" and that there was a " slight language barrier, but based off of hand gestures and common questions between the police and citizens, we
were able to easily navigate through the traffic stop." Tr. at 32. Officer Robinett asked Garcia if he had a driver's license. Garcia did not have a driver's license, but he gave Officer Robinett his Mexican identification card. Officer Robinett searched the BMV database with the name on the identification card and found that Garcia did not have a valid driver's license.
[¶ 3] Officer Robinett arrested Garcia for class C misdemeanor driving without a license, although he also had the option of issuing a summons for this particular offense. Officer Robinett conducted a patdown search of Garcia incident to the arrest. He found a small metallic cylinder in Garcia's left front pants pocket. Officer Robinett had seen similar containers many times, " anywhere between two to ten times a year" over the previous five years. Id. at 26. In his experience, these containers held either illegal substances or properly prescribed medication. He opened the container and found half a pill with specific markings on it indicating that it was hydrocodone/acetaminophen, a schedule III controlled substance. Garcia stated in English, " That's my narcotic for pain." Id. at 29. Officer Robinett did not find a valid prescription for the medication on Garcia's person or in the car.
[¶ 4] The State charged Garcia with class C misdemeanor driving without a valid license and class D felony possession of a controlled substance. At trial, Garcia moved to suppress the evidence found in the container on the grounds that opening the container was unreasonable under the United States and Indiana Constitutions. The trial court ultimately denied Garcia's motion to suppress. Garcia testified that he lived with his wife and their nine-year-old son and that his wife's elderly aunt had also lived with them until she died three days before his arrest. On the day of his arrest, Garcia cleaned out the aunt's room and found the container. He recognized it as a container for medicine and put it in his pocket so that his son would not get it. He forgot that he had it in his pocket when he drove the car later that night. Garcia submitted a pharmacy record ...