from the Putnam Circuit Court The Honorable Matthew L.
Headley, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 67C01-1502-F3-32
Attorney for Appellant Joel C. Wieneke Wieneke Law Office,
LLC Brooklyn, Indiana
Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Lyubov Gore Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis,
Otis Sams ("Sams") was convicted in Putnam Circuit
Court of Level 4 felony possession of methamphetamine. Sams
appeals, challenging the warrantless search and seizure of
the evidence against him. We conclude that the State did not
carry its burden to show that the inventory search of
Sams's truck was sufficiently regulated; therefore, we
and Procedural History
February 20, 2015, was a snowy night in Greencastle, Indiana.
Late that evening or early the next morning, Sams had
recently finished work on a home remodeling job and was
headed for home, outside of town, driving a family
member's truck. Sams had no car of his own because his
driver's license had been suspended, but Sams drove his
family member's truck anyway. Before leaving town, Sams
stopped at a fast-food restaurant and purchased his supper to
go, eating as he drove.
At the same time, a sworn officer and a trainee reserve
officer of the Greencastle Police Department
("GPD"), Christopher Jones ("Jones") and
Justin Tate ("Tate"), were patrolling
Greencastle's streets in their squad car. When Sams's
truck passed the officers going in the opposite direction,
Tate noticed the truck had no working taillights. "That
is an infraction in the [s]tate of Indiana, " as Jones
later noted. Tr. p. 188. The officers turned their car around
and pulled Sams over near the intersection of Jackson Street
and Shadowlawn Avenue.
The officers approached Sams and asked for his driver's
license and the truck's registration. Sams was the
truck's only occupant. The truck was in poor condition
and smelled like freshly cooked hamburger. Next to Sams on
the passenger seat and center console sat a fast-food bag and
a hamburger box. As he continued to eat his hamburger, Sams
produced the vehicle's registration but, rather than a
driver's license, handed the officers a state-issued
identification card. The officers took Sams's papers back
to their squad car to process them. There, after several
minutes, the officers discovered that Sams was driving on a
suspended license for the second time in ten years, a
misdemeanor criminal offense.
With this information, the officers were faced with the
question of what to do with a truck stopped at night on a
public road that was cold and slick in a snowstorm, without a
licensed driver to drive it away. Jones decided that
conditions required Sams's truck to be impounded and
towed. "[From t]he position of the vehicle[, we]
couldn't leave it where it was. [We c]ouldn't . . .
spend time waiting on someone to drive [in] from out of town
[to claim the truck]. So we impounded the vehicle." Tr.
Jones chose to issue Sams a summons for the misdemeanor
rather than arrest him. The officers returned to the truck to
tell Sams the truck would be towed and to give him the
summons. Sams said he would have someone pick him up from a
nearby gas station. The officers patted Sams down and told
him he was free to leave. Sams left the truck and walked to
the gas station to wait.
Around this time, a second reserve officer and a second sworn
officer, Kyle Lee ("Lee"), arrived on the scene,
bringing the total number of officers to four. Jones and Lee
began to inventory the contents of the truck before the tow
truck arrived. Jones and Lee began their inventorying process
on opposite sides of the truck's cab. Several personal
items were scattered about the cab, including an orange gas
can, a pair of gloves, an ashtray, a snow scraper, and, we
infer, some tools Sams used in his renovation work.
From the driver's side, Jones noticed the fast-food bag,
previously next to Sams in the front of the cab with the
hamburger box, now sat folded up on the floorboard behind the
passenger seat in the rear of the cab. Jones immediately
became suspicious. Jones told Lee, "[H]ey[, ] check that
bag. Just make sure nothing's in it." Tr. p. 13. Lee
opened the bag. Inside the bag was the hamburger box. Inside
the hamburger box were lettuce, ketchup, and more than
twenty-five grams of methamphetamine.
The officers walked to the nearby gas station and found Sams
there, still waiting to be picked up. The officers arrested
Sams without incident. The officers then wrote up their
complete inventory of the truck: "Misc tools." Ex.
Vol., State's Hr'g Ex. 6. At some point "after
[the officers] found what [they] found [they] took photos
just to document. [They] had to place everything back in the
general location where [they] found it just for documentation
purposes." Tr. p. 219. Three pictures were taken: two of
the inside of the bag and box, one of the outside of the bag,
not very neatly folded,  and what appears to be a part of the
orange gas can and the handle of the snow scraper at the
edges of the frame. Ex. Vol., State's Trial Exs. 1-3;
see Tr. p. 178. The truck was towed shortly
thereafter, and it is unknown what became of it or its
contents. See Tr. p. 14.
On February 23, 2015, Sams was charged with Class A
misdemeanor driving while license suspended and Level 3
felony possession of methamphetamine, later reduced to Level
4 felony possession. On November 2, 2015, Sams moved to
suppress the methamphetamine. At a hearing on November 25,
2015, the court heard evidence and argument and ordered
briefing. The court denied Sams's motion on January 6,
2016. Sams sought certification for interlocutory appeal,
which the court denied on February 1, 2016, in an order
issued on February 4, 2016.
Sams's case was tried to a Putnam County jury on February
3, 2016. The methamphetamine seized from the truck was
admitted over Sams's objection. The jury returned guilty
verdicts on both the misdemeanor driving while suspended and
the felony possession charges. On March 10, 2016, Sams was
sentenced to time already served for the misdemeanor, and to
ten years, nine and one-half executed, in the Indiana
Department of Correction for the felony.
This appeal followed. Sams challenges the admission of the
methamphetamine as the inadmissible fruit of an unlawful
search under the Fourth Amendment. He raises no separate
argument under our state constitution.
Our review of denials of motions to suppress, when following
a trial at which the challenged evidence was admitted, is
properly a review of the trial court's decision to admit
the evidence. Carpenter v. State, 18 N.E.3d 998,
1001 (Ind. 2014). We review the trial court's ruling on
admissibility for abuse of discretion, reversing only if the
ruling is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts,
and the error effects substantial rights. Id. The
constitutionality of a search or seizure is a pure question
of law we review de novo. Id. Because the search in
this case was done without a warrant, the burden of showing
its constitutionality was on the State. Berry v.
State, 967 N.E.2d 87, 90 (Ind.Ct.App. 2012).
Sams Timely Appealed
The State suggests that Sams's appeal "may be
untimely." Appellee's Br. p. 6. However, the
State's reliance on Smith v. Deem, 834 N.E.2d
1100 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005) (period for filing notice of appeal
begins to run when parties have actual notice of final
judgment), trans. denied, has been mooted by
intervening amendment to the Indiana Rules of Appellate
Procedure. App. R. 9(A)(1) (period for filing notice of
appeal begins to run when final judgment entered into
chronological case summary); Bryan H. Babb & Curtis T.
Jones, Developments in Indiana Appellate Procedure: Rule
Amendments, Remarkable Case Law, and Court Guidance for
Appellate Practitioners, 44 Ind. L. Rev. 1033, 1033-34
(2011) (describing 2010 amendment putting App. R. 9(A)(1) in
its current form). Under the current rule, there is no
question that Sams timely appealed. We therefore proceed to
the merits of Sams's claim.
The Inventory Search of the Fast-Food Bag and Box Was Not
Sufficiently Regulated by Standardized Procedures and Was
The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.
Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006).
When police are investigating crime, it is usually
unreasonable for them to search a person's car without
probable cause to think they will find evidence relevant to
their investigation there. See Myers v. State, 839
N.E.2d 1146, 1150-51 (Ind. 2005). However, when police have
taken lawful custody of a person's car,  whether to
protect the public, see Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S.
433, 441 (1973) (first recognizing community caretaking
doctrine), or because otherwise authorized by state law,
Fair v. State, 627 N.E.2d 427, 431 (Ind. 1993), they
are responsible for the car and anything inside it. In these
cases, it is reasonable for police to search the car and make
an inventory of anything inside it for administrative reasons
completely unconnected to criminal investigation: to protect
the person's property and to protect themselves, as well
as anyone who ...