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Fields v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 22, 2017

Eberaia Fields, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

         Appeal from the Kosciusko Superior Court - 3 The Honorable Joe V. Sutton, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 43D03-1510-F6-642.

          Attorney for Appellant Kerry C. Connor Attorney at Law

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Larry D. Allen Deputy Attorney General

          Vaidik, Chief Judge.

          Case Summary

          [¶1] When Warsaw Police Department Officer Miles Reichard pulled over Eberaia Fields, Officer Reichard had not taken the statutory oath for law-enforcement officers. Fields filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him, and the trial court denied his motion, finding that although Officer Reichard had not been sworn in, he was acting as a de facto officer at the time of the stop.

         [¶2] The de facto officer doctrine confers validity upon acts performed by a person acting under the color of official title even though it is later discovered that the legality of that person's appointment is deficient. The purpose of this doctrine is to protect the public by insuring the orderly functioning of the government despite technical defects in title to office. We find that Officer Reichard's failure to take the oath is a technical defect in his title to office. But because the record shows that Officer Reichard claimed the office, was in possession of it, and performed its duties under the color of appointment, we conclude that he was acting as a de facto officer at the time of the stop. We therefore affirm the trial court's denial of Fields's motion to dismiss the charges against him.

         Facts and Procedural History

          [¶3] The underlying facts in this case are undisputed. Officer Reichard pulled over Fields in the early-morning hours of September 12, 2015, due to a broken license-plate light. At the time of the stop, Officer Reichard was in full Warsaw Police Department uniform, was driving a marked Warsaw Police Department patrol car, and identified himself as an officer with the Warsaw Police Department. Fields was ultimately charged with Level 6 felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated, two counts of Level 6 felony intimidation, and Class C misdemeanor violation of special-driving privileges. The State also alleged that Fields was a habitual vehicular substance offender.

         [¶4] In December 2016, Fields filed a motion to dismiss all charges against him because Officer Reichard "had not been lawfully sworn in to act with the authority of the Warsaw Police Department at the time of the stop and detention . . . on September 12, 201[5]." Appellant's App. Vol. III p. 38; see Ind. Code § 5-4-1-1(a) ("[E]very officer and every deputy, before entering on the officer's or deputy's official duties, shall take an oath . . . ."); State v. Oddi-Smith, 878 N.E.2d 1245, 1247-48 (Ind. 2008) (concluding that Section 5-4-1-1 applies to law-enforcement officers and that officers must take an oath before beginning official duties).[1]

         [¶5] At the hearing on Fields's motion to dismiss, evidence was presented that Officer Reichard began working for the Warsaw Police Department on November 9, 2014, and that he received his first paycheck a couple weeks later. Tr. Vol. II pp. 17-18. However, Officer Reichard did not have his oath of office administered and filed with the Kosciusko County Clerk until November 19, 2015-a year after he was hired and two months after he stopped Fields. Exs. A & B; Tr. Vol. II pp. 13, 19-21. The State presented additional evidence that before Officer Reichard began working for the Warsaw Police Department, he worked part-time for the Indiana University Police Department while he was attending college. As part of the training for that job, he went to the "Police Academy" and received, among other things, firearms training. Tr. Vol. II p. 32. Upon being hired by the Warsaw Police Department, Officer Reichard received a paycheck, health-insurance and retirement benefits, a uniform, handcuffs, a handgun, ammunition, a taser, a fully marked patrol car, and badge number 161. Id. at 36-40. He also underwent a two-week orientation and was supervised by a field-training officer for twelve weeks before he was allowed to patrol on his own. Id. at 31, 49-50. Finally, Officer Reichard acted with the approval and consent of the Warsaw Chief of Police.

         [¶6] After additional briefing by the parties, the trial court denied Fields's motion to dismiss the charges against him, concluding that Officer Reichard was acting as a de facto officer when he stopped Fields on September 12, 2015.

         [¶7] This interlocutory ...


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