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Thomas v. Warden

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

February 1, 2019

WILL THOMAS, Petitioner,
WARDEN, Respondent.



         Will Thomas, a prisoner without a lawyer, was found guilty of dealing in a narcotic drug by the Grant Superior Court under cause number 27D01-1404-FA-5. ECF 1. He now seeks habeas corpus relief from that conviction and the imposed 40-year sentence. His sole contention is that the trial court should have excluded from evidence heroin recovered from him after a warrantless arrest following a traffic stop. Id. at 4. However, because this Fourth Amendment claim was fully litigated in the state courts it is not cognizable here. Thus, the petition will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In deciding the petition, I must presume the facts set forth by the state courts are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). It is Thomas's burden to rebut this presumption with clear and convincing evidence. Id. Here are the facts recounted by the Indiana Supreme Court:

This case arose from an arrest for dealing in narcotic drugs. On April 7, 2014, the Joint Effort Against Narcotics (“JEAN”) Team Drug Task Force, which included officers from the City of Marion Police Department and the Grant County Sheriff's Office, received a tip from a credible confidential informant that two men from Chicago were travelling to Grant County to sell drugs. The informant told JEAN officers that the two men were driving a white minivan with a temporary Illinois license plate and could be found at the Comfort Suites in Marion, Indiana.
Upon receiving this information, Detective Mark Stefanatos (“Detective Stefanatos”) began surveillance of a Dodge Caravan that fit the confidential informant's description. While there, he observed two men, later identified as Will Thomas and Byron Christmas, enter the vehicle and drive away.
Detective Stefanatos followed the van and observed it illegally change lanes without properly signaling. Detective Stefanatos then called for a uniformed police officer, Joseph Martin (“Officer Martin”), to initiate a traffic stop. He also called for a canine unit on the scene, which arrived within a minute or two.
Officer Martin initiated the stop and approached the vehicle with Detective Stefanatos. Officer Martin walked to the driver's side of the vehicle and spoke with Christmas while Detective Stefanatos spoke with Thomas, who was sitting in the front passenger seat. The officers tried to verify each man's identity and their reason for travelling through Marion, Indiana. Both Thomas and Christmas told officers that they were visiting family, but neither man could identify where in Indiana their respective family members lived. Furthermore, the driver, Christmas, was unable to present officers with any form of identification and claimed he left his driver's license in Chicago.
Simultaneous to the traffic stop, officers ran a certified narcotics canine around the vehicle with the occupants still inside. The officers first brought the canine to the vehicle's rear bumper and had it sniff along the driver's side. When the canine reached the driver's door, it alerted officers to the presence of narcotics. Officers removed Thomas and Christmas from the vehicle and conducted a pat-down search for officer safety. No drugs or weapons were found in the course of the pat-down.
Christmas then gave officers permission to search the vehicle. The canine was brought into the vehicle's interior, but it no longer detected the presence of narcotics. No narcotics or contraband were found in a subsequent search of the vehicle's interior. Officers did not bring the narcotics detection canine around the suspects because the canine was also trained as an apprehension dog. Bringing the dog around the suspects ran the risk of causing them injury if either of the suspects turned out to possess contraband.
Christmas and Thomas were each asked whether they would consent to a strip search at the police station. Christmas agreed and was transported to the county jail where no drugs were found on his person. Officers did, however, find Christmas had $750 in cash. Thomas, on the other hand, declined the search. Given Thomas's refusal to consent, officers applied for a search warrant. In the meantime, they transported Thomas to the Marion Police Station where he would await the results of the search warrant request. Officers said they transported Thomas because they preferred to conduct the search somewhere other than a public roadway. They also expressed concern about the destruction of evidence if Thomas were not transported to the police station.
Upon arrival at the station, Thomas was placed in an interview room, which was equipped with video monitoring equipment. Officers left Thomas alone in the room and continued to observe him remotely. Moments later, Thomas was seen removing something from his jacket pocket and placing it in his mouth. Officers re-entered the room to retrieve what Thomas had placed in his mouth. When Thomas refused to comply, officers forced his mouth open and retrieved a small plastic baggie containing 8.5 grams of a gray, crumbly, rock-like substance. The substance later tested positive for heroin.
Thomas was charged with Class A felony dealing in a narcotic drug and Class B misdemeanor battery. Prior to trial, Thomas moved to suppress evidence recovered at the police station, alleging officers lacked probable cause to detain him. The trial court denied Thomas's motion. After a two-day jury trial, Thomas was found guilty of dealing in a narcotic drug, but not guilty of battery.

Thomas v. State, No. 27D01-1404-FA-5, slip op. 2-3 (Ind.S.Ct. Sept. 7, 2017) (internal citations omitted); DE ...

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