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Pinner v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

May 9, 2017

Thomas Pinner, Appellant (Defendant below),
State of Indiana, Appellees (Plaintiff below).

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49G20-1503-F5-8548 The Honorable Peggy Hart, Commissioner The Honorable Shatrese Marie Flowers, Judge.

         On Petition To Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A02-1511-CR-2036

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Ruth Ann Johnson Marion County Public Defender Agency, Michael R. Fisher, Marion County Public Defender Agency, Indianapolis, Indiana.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr Attorney General of Indiana, Henry Albert Flores, Jr., Deputy Attorney General Caryn Nieman-Szyper, Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana.

          RUCKER, JUSTICE.

         Charged with possession of a firearm Defendant moved to suppress the evidence on both federal and state constitutional grounds. The trial court denied the motion. After de novo review, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On February 20, 2015, patrol officers with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department received a dispatch advising "there was a couple in a taxi cab. And upon exiting the taxi cab . . . a black male dropped a handgun and the taxi driver [felt] he was going to be robbed, he was afraid." Tr. at 5. The taxi driver described the man as "[a] black male wearing a blue jacket" with a "black female with blonde hair." Tr. at 7. Officer Jason Palmer responded to the dispatch and was the first officer to arrive on the scene-the Studio Movie Grill. Because the taxi driver left before the police arrived, Officer Palmer called the driver directly to get more information. The driver "said the gun had fell [sic], " although Officer Palmer was not sure "if it was on the ground or in the taxi cab." Tr. at 6. And although the taxi driver reported "he was feared [sic] that he might be robbed, " in fact "he wasn't actually robbed." Tr. at 12. And the driver made no claim the man had threatened him with the weapon. Tr. at 13.

         As Officer Palmer proceeded inside the establishment Officer George Stewart arrived to assist. While speaking to security personnel, the officers observed "a black female with blonde hair walking away from a bench area" and then "observed a black male wearing a blue jeans [sic] and sweatshirt" seated on a bench in the area from which the woman had left. Tr. at 7, 8. The man was later identified as Thomas Pinner. The bench was next to a wall that was positioned behind Pinner. The officers approached the seated Pinner with Officer Palmer "standing on one side and Officer Stewart was standing on the other side[.]" Tr. at 15. Officer Palmer introduced himself and informed Pinner that they had received a call that "someone of [his] description . . . has a handgun on him." Tr. at 8. Officer Palmer then asked Pinner if he possessed a weapon. Pinner paused "for a few seconds" during which "he was kind of a little rocking back and forth [wringing] his hands." Tr. at 8. Although hesitant to answer, he denied having a weapon. Officer Palmer then instructed Pinner to "stand up and keep his hands up" where they could be seen; Tr. at 22, Pinner complied and Officer Palmer saw the butt of a gun in Pinner's front pocket. Officer Palmer secured the weapon and detained Pinner for further investigation.

         Pinner was arrested and charged with class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license enhanced to a level 5 felony due to a prior felony conviction. He filed a motion to suppress, contending the search and seizure were conducted in violation of both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion concluding the officers had reasonable suspicion to approach and question Pinner. App. at 45 (Order on Def.'s Mot. to Suppress Evid. at 3) ("The knowledge and facts known to this officer at the time of the stop was sufficiently particularized and objective to infer possible criminal activity or that criminal activity 'may be afoot'. Court finds the initial detention amounted to reasonable suspicion and therefore was reasonable."). Pinner filed a Petition to Certify the Order for Interlocutory Appeal, which the trial court granted. The Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction and, in a divided opinion, reversed the judgment of the trial court, concluding "no reasonable suspicion justified the investigatory stop. . . ." Pinner v. State, 59 N.E.3d 275, 276 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016). The State petitioned for transfer which this Court previously granted. Additional facts are set forth below.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's denial of the Defendant's motion to suppress based upon a standard similar to that employed for other sufficiency of evidence issues. Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356, 358 (Ind. 2005). Although "[w]e do not reweigh the evidence" and we generally "consider conflicting evidence most favorably to the trial court's ruling, " id., the Court will consider "uncontradicted evidence to the contrary, to decide whether the evidence is sufficient to support the ruling." Holder v. State, 847 N.E.2d 930, 935 (Ind. 2006). Further, when an appellant's challenge to such a ruling is premised on a claimed constitutional violation, we review the issue de novo because it raises a question of law. Guilmette v. State, 14 N.E.3d 38, 40-41 (Ind. 2014).


         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable search and seizures."[1] Generally, to be reasonable, a search must be conducted pursuant to a properly-issued warrant supported by probable cause. Membres v. State, 889 N.E.2d 265, 275 (Ind. 2008). However, police may- without a warrant-stop an individual for investigatory purposes if, based upon specific, articulable facts, the officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity "may be afoot." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968). Here Pinner contends the officers lacked reasonable suspicion that he was committing or was about to commit a crime to justify the investigatory stop. ...

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