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State v. Crager

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 25, 2018

State of Indiana, Appellant-Plaintiff,
Justin Crager, Appellee-Defendant.

          Appeal from the DeKalb Superior Court Trial Court Cause No. 17D01-1707-F4-10 The Honorable Kevin P. Wallace, Judge

          Attorneys for Appellant Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Angela N. Sanchez Assistant Section Chief, Criminal Appeals Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorney for Appellee John M. Haecker Squiller & Hamilton, LLP Auburn, Indiana

          BROWN, JUDGE

         [¶1] The State appeals the trial court's order granting a motion to suppress filed by Justin Crager. The State raises one issue which we revise and restate as whether the trial court erred in granting Crager's motion to suppress. We reverse and remand.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On July 24, 2017, the State charged Crager with: Count I, dealing in methamphetamine as a level 4 felony; Count II, possession of methamphetamine as a level 6 felony; and Count III, possession of paraphernalia as a class C misdemeanor and alleged that he had a prior conviction that would enhance the offense to a class A misdemeanor.

         [¶3] On January 27, 2018, Crager filed a motion to suppress and alleged that evidence was obtained in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

         [¶4] On February 21, 2018, the court held a hearing on Crager's motion. Garrett Police Sergeant Kyle LaMotte testified that he was on routine patrol on July 21, 2017, was aware that Crager had an active arrest warrant as "at some point [he] was on [his] computer and saw the active warrant," observed Crager operating a motorcycle, and stopped him for the warrant. Transcript at 8. He testified that when he was in the process of stopping Crager, he radioed central communications to confirm the warrant and advise that he was with Crager. He further testified that Crager was going to park at a gas station as he pulled in behind Crager.

         [¶5] According to Sergeant LaMotte's testimony, Crager "got off his motorcycle and started walking towards the door of the gas station" with a backpack on his back. Id. at 10. Sergeant LaMotte yelled Crager's name, and Crager stopped and went to him. Sergeant LaMotte asked Crager to place his backpack on the ground, Crager did so, and Sergeant LaMotte placed him in handcuffs for the active arrest warrant. When asked if he had confirmed the warrant at that point, Sergeant LaMotte answered: "I, I'm unsure at what point they came back with that." Id. Sergeant LaMotte indicated that he arrested Crager based on his belief that he had an active warrant.

         [¶6] Sergeant LaMotte determined the backpack had a locked compartment and asked Crager for the key. Crager did not want to give him the key but told him that the key was on a key ring. He testified that if Crager had not given him the key then he would have broken the lock. When asked why he would have broken the lock, he answered:

Because for one it was a search incident to arrest and he had it on his back at the time that I had encountered him. And for two, he was under arrest. He was gonna be in my patrol car along with the book bag. So not only for the search incident to arrest but officer safety purposes, I had no way of knowing what the book bag contents were. You know, there could have been a bomb in there for all I know. I don't know. It was going to be going into a secure facility, the DeKalb County Jail so I felt it was my responsibility to make sure there was nothing dangerous in the bag as well.

Id. at 11-12. Sergeant LaMotte unlocked the backpack and found two separate bags of crystal methamphetamine, a bag of clean and unused ziplock bags, a jar that contained a white liquid which he believed likely contained methamphetamine, [1] a meth pipe, a digital scale, a cell phone, and a syringe.

         [¶7] Sergeant LaMotte testified that the stop was recorded by his in-car video and audio camera, and that there was full audio but the visual part could not be seen due to the angle of the vehicles. He testified that an inventory search was conducted on the towed motorcycle and no evidence was discovered relating to the case.

         [¶8] When asked on cross-examination if, at the point the stop occurred, he had reviewed a warrant for Crager's arrest approximately an hour before the arrest, Sergeant LaMotte answered: "Approximately, yeah." Id. at 19. He indicated that he had asked Crager if there were drugs in the backpack, and Crager stated that he was not giving consent to search. He testified that he asked Crager to place the backpack on the ground so that he could effectively handcuff him. He stated: "At the time that I said, Justin, come to me, I knew that he had the warrant, meaning that he was not free to go. At that time, he was wearing the book bag." Id. at 24. He indicated that Crager had to go to jail when he observed him and knew that he had a warrant. Crager's counsel then asked: "So that was [the] decision that you knew right from the get-go?" Id. At 29. Sergeant LaMotte answered: "Yeah. He had to go to jail. He had a warrant." Id. He testified that he could not have left the backpack with the motorcycle because it was his responsibility to protect Crager's property and secure his possessions.

         [¶9] On redirect examination, Sergeant LaMotte testified that he was previously a confinement officer and booked people in at the DeKalb County jail, that he would thoroughly search a backpack, that if it was locked he would break it open, and that he was positive that the backpack would have been searched if he had not searched it at the scene.

         [¶10] On March 1, 2018, the trial court granted Crager's motion to ...

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