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Watkins v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

October 18, 2017

Mario Watkins, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court, No. 82C01-1412-F2-5337 The Honorable Kelli E. Fink, Magistrate

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 82A01-1510-CR-1624

          Attorney for Appellant Matthew J. McGovern Anderson, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana James B. Martin Monika Prekopa Talbot Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Rush, Chief Justice

         Evansville police executed a search warrant at Mario Watkins's home with a flash-bang grenade, battering ram, and a dozen heavily armed SWAT officers. Once inside, they found cocaine, marijuana, and a gun. Watkins argues that the intrusive entry violated the Indiana Constitution and that the search warrant was unsupported by probable cause under the Federal Constitution.

         For the state constitutional analysis, we apply our well-established Litchfield test and hold that Evansville police did not act unreasonably under the totality of the circumstances. And for the federal analysis, we uphold the search warrant because its supporting affidavit shows a substantial basis for finding probable cause. We therefore affirm the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         A long-time confidential informant saw Mario Watkins in his Evansville home with a gun, cocaine, and marijuana. After receiving this tip, Evansville police got a search warrant, surveilled the house, and decided to send in the SWAT team. The team met to plan the warrant execution, taking into account the layout of the house, Watkins's violent criminal history, and the danger posed by four adults with narcotics and a gun.

         Soon after, twelve SWAT officers arrived at Watkins's house in an armored vehicle. One officer bashed in the front door with a battering ram while another announced the team's presence over a loudspeaker. A third officer's job was to use a flash-bang grenade-a diversionary device that emits a loud noise and bright flash of light-to distract anyone inside. Following standard safety precautions, he did a "quick peek" into the front room to see whether the grenade was appropriate, then deployed it six inches inside the door.[1] He did not know that a nine-month-old boy was lying under a blanket in a playpen in that room.

         Officers discovered the child moments after the grenade went off, and took him outside. They then found four adults-including Watkins-in the rest of the house. When they arrested Watkins, he told them that everything in the house was his.

         Searching the house, officers found a plate with crack cocaine residue, digital scales, 4.2 grams of crack cocaine, 706 grams of marijuana, 35 hydrocodone pills, 21 alprazolam pills, 25 oxycodone pills, $263 in cash, and a .40 caliber Hi-Point handgun.

         The State charged Watkins with multiple felonies. He filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the search warrant was unsupported by probable cause under the Fourth Amendment and that its execution violated the search-and-seizure protections of the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. The trial court denied the motion.

         The trial court then severed the unlawful possession of a firearm charge, and the remaining counts went to trial. The jury deadlocked on a neglect of a dependent charge, but found Watkins guilty of possession of a schedule II controlled substance as a lesser-included Class A misdemeanor, possession of cocaine as a Level 6 felony, possession of a schedule IV controlled substance as a lesser-included Class A misdemeanor, possession of marijuana as a lesser-included Class B misdemeanor, and maintaining a common nuisance as a Level 6 felony.

         Watkins appealed, arguing that the search warrant affidavit did not establish probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the search warrant execution was unreasonable under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. A split panel of the Court of Appeals reversed. The majority found the search unreasonable under Article 1, Section 11's Litchfield test because "the extent of law enforcement needs for a military-style assault was low and the degree of intrusion was unreasonably high." Watkins v. State, 67 N.E.3d 1092, 1102 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017). Judge May dissented, as she would have found the search reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. Id. at 1102 (May, J., dissenting).

         The State petitioned for transfer, which we granted-thus vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

         Standard of Review

         Watkins challenges the constitutionality of the warrant execution only under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution-an issue that we review de novo. Z ...


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