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Thomas v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 21, 2016

Will Thomas, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Grant Superior Court The Honorable Jeffrey D. Todd, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 27D01-1404-FA-5

          Attorney for Appellant William T. Myers Grant County Public Defender Marion, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Larry D. Allen Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Bailey, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Will Thomas ("Thomas") was convicted of Dealing in a Narcotic Drug, as a Class A felony.[1] He now appeals.

         [¶2] We reverse.

         Issue

         [¶3] Thomas raises one issue for our review, which we restate as whether the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted into evidence heroin recovered from Thomas after a warrantless arrest following a traffic stop.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶4] On April 7, 2014, acting on information obtained from an informant, a joint task force of officers from the City of Marion Police Department and the Grant County Sheriff's Office engaged in surveillance of a white Dodge Caravan with temporary Illinois license plates. The vehicle was located at a hotel in Marion.

         [¶5] Around 3:30 p.m., Byron Christmas ("Christmas") and Thomas, who matched physical descriptions provided by the informant, got in the van and left the parking lot of the hotel. Detective Mark Stefanatos ("Detective Stefanatos"), one of the officers conducting surveillance, observed the van change lanes without properly signaling a lane change, and requested that a uniformed officer, Joseph Martin ("Officer Martin"), conduct a traffic stop.

         [¶6] Officer Martin conducted a traffic stop of the van. Christmas was driving the van, and Thomas was seated in the front passenger's seat. Detective Stefanatos came to the traffic stop, as did a police K9 handler, Grant County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Sneed ("Deputy Sneed"). Officer Martin spoke with Christmas while Detective Stefanatos spoke with Thomas. Each officer attempted to verify the men's identity and reason for their travel through Marion.

         [¶7] During their conversation, Officer Martin obtained Christmas's written permission to search the van. Upon obtaining Christmas's permission to search, Deputy Sneed had his police dog begin to sniff the vehicle, starting along the driver's side from the rear bumper and moving toward the front of the car. The dog, which was trained in narcotics detection and suspect apprehension, alerted next to the driver's door.

         [¶8] After the police dog alerted to the presence of narcotics, the officers had Christmas and Thomas exit the vehicle and conducted a pat-down search for officer safety. Christmas and Thomas were each asked whether they would consent to a strip search at the police station, and were informed that officers would seek a search warrant if they declined to consent. Christmas agreed, and Thomas declined.

         [¶9] Christmas, whose driving privileges had been suspended in Illinois, was transported to the Grant County Jail, where he was searched. The ...


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