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Dowdy v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 7, 2017

Kevin Dowdy, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable John Christ, Commissioner Trial Court Cause No. 49G14-1510-F6-37975

          Attorney for Appellant Deborah Markisohn Marion County Public Defender Agency Appellate Division Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Eric P. Babbs Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Brown, Judge.

         [¶1] In this interlocutory appeal, Kevin Dowdy appeals the trial court's order denying his motion to suppress evidence. He raises two issues which we consolidate and restate as whether the court erred in denying his motion to suppress. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On October 21, 2015, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Cameron Taylor was conducting traffic patrol and "just running license plates" while he was driving. Transcript Volume II at 8. He ran a license plate on a vehicle and the status for the registration plate "came up expired" on his mobile data terminal. Id. at 12. The return for information from the BMV included three or four pages, and Officer Taylor's computer terminal screen showed that the issue date was October 21, 2014, and the expiration date was October 21, 2015. He activated his lights and initiated a traffic stop because of the expired registration.

         [¶3] Officer Taylor approached the vehicle and spoke to the occupants including Dowdy who was in the front passenger seat. Officer Taylor explained the reason for the stop, asked the driver for her driver's license and the vehicle registration, and also asked Dowdy if he "wouldn't mind giving [him] his identification." Id. at 14. Officer Taylor received their identifications or wrote down their names and dates of birth, ran the occupants' information, and discovered that there were warrants for Dowdy's arrest. He conducted a search of Dowdy and discovered a "receipt with pills in it" in his pocket. Id. at 16.

         [¶4] On October 26, 2015, the State charged Dowdy with possession of a narcotic drug as a level 6 felony. On May 2, 2016, Dowdy filed a motion to suppress evidence and argued that the stop, detention, arrest, and seizure of the contraband was illegal.

         [¶5] On July 26, 2016, the court held a suppression hearing. Officer Taylor testified that the return for information from the BMV is four pages and that:

[T]here's a status that - it says status and then it will say active, inactive, suspended, or expired. I just look for that spot because I'm just - you know, I'm not trying to read every little detail about - I don't care when the plate was issued. I don't necessarily care when it was expired. I just look to see that it's expired according to the BMV because that's where I get my returns from.

Id. at 10-11. When asked if at any point it came to his attention that the license plate's expiration date was the same as the date of the actual traffic stop, he answered: "Somebody - I thought of it. I think it stood out to me obviously when I went to write the report." Id. at 15. He also indicated that someone who has a warrant takes priority over an expired registration. On cross-examination, Officer Taylor testified that his computer terminal screen showed that the issue date was October 21, 2014, and the expiration date was October 21, 2015. On redirect examination, he testified that the status for the vehicle registration was expired.

         [¶6] On September 15, 2016, the court held a hearing and denied Dowdy's motion to suppress. The court stated:

After reviewing the case law and the facts, I do find that the officer's behavior was reasonable; that he did rely upon the computer transmission from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that indicated that the license plate and registration . . . were expired.
What I'm seeing - what my recollection that the officer relied on was not just the dates but the submission from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that the license was, in fact - that the registration was, in fact, expired.
I don't know if was [sic] a mistake of law on his part, but I think that there's a difficulty interpretation - of interpreting that law.
I tried to find what the code would state as to the expiration date and when that would - when that would happen and when registrations would expire, and the only statute is the statute submitted by Defense that, you know, speaks to when the expiration date is on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday time when the license branches would be closed.
I think it would require the officer to make some sort of legal interpretation. I don't know that it's automatically clear of what the expiration date would be based on that statute when it happened in this case on a Wednesday.
I think the officer's behavior was reasonable. I don't think that it is inherently unreasonable. I don't think it was a mistake of law or ignorance of the law. I think he relied reasonably upon the Bureau of Motor Vehicle's communication that the license plates and registration were expired on that vehicle.
Mr. Dowdy had a warrant for his arrest. And I think everything found thereafter flows from the warrant and the search once he's taken into custody on that warrant. So I find the officer's behavior reasonable.

Id. at 32-33. Dowdy now brings this interlocutory appeal.

         Discussion

         [¶7] The issue is whether the trial court erred in denying Dowdy's motion to suppress. The admission of evidence is entrusted to the trial court's sound discretion. Robinson v. State, 5 N.E.3d 362, 365 (Ind. 2014). See also Kelly v. State, 997 N.E.2d 1045, 1050 (Ind. 2013) (addressing a denial of a motion to suppress and holding that the admission of evidence is a matter entrusted to the trial court's sound discretion). "We review a trial court's denial of a defendant's motion to suppress deferentially, construing conflicting evidence in the light most favorable to the ruling, but we will also consider any substantial and uncontested evidence favorable to the defendant." Robinson, 5 N.E.3d at 365. "We defer to the trial court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous, and we will not reweigh the evidence." Id. "When the trial court's denial of a defendant's motion to suppress concerns the constitutionality of a search or seizure, however, it presents a question of law, and we address that question de novo." Id.

         [¶8] Dowdy argues that the registration was valid until midnight on October 21, 2015, and that his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution were violated.

         A. Fourth Amendment

         [¶9] The Fourth ...


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