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Lewis v. Putnam County Sheriff's Department

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 23, 2019

Alvin L. Lewis, Appellant-Respondent,
v.
Putnam County Sheriff's Department, Appellee-Petitioner

          Appeal from the Putnam Circuit Court, The Honorable Matthew L. Headley, Judge, Trial Court Cause No. 67C01-1808-MI-67

          Attorney for Appellant David M. Seiter, Cate, Terry & Gookins, LLC, Carmel, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Ellen H. Meilaender Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          BAKER, JUDGE.

         [¶1] Alvin Lewis was pulled over as part of a routine traffic stop. The deputy told Lewis he would merely get a warning but, because of some inconsistent answers provided by Lewis, the deputy decided to conduct a dog sniff of Lewis's vehicle. After the dog alerted, the deputy searched Lewis's vehicle and found over $77, 000 in cash. Lewis denied that the money was his. No criminal charges were filed, but the State seized the cash and filed a motion to turn the money over to the federal government, which the trial court granted. Lewis now appeals, arguing that the search was unlawful and that, even if the search was lawful, the seizure of the cash was unlawful because the State failed to show a nexus between the cash and any crime. Finding that the seizure of the cash was unlawful and that the trial court erred by granting the motion for turnover, we reverse and remand.

         Facts [1]

         [¶2] On February 14, 2018, Putnam County Sheriff's Department Deputy Dwight Simmons observed a vehicle driving westbound on I-74. The vehicle was marked with an Arizona temporary license plate. Deputy Simmons initiated a traffic stop, explaining to Lewis, the driver, that the temporary plate was hard to read, that Lewis was weaving back and forth, and that he was not maintaining a steady rate of speed. Lewis explained that he had purchased the vehicle from a friend and that he had ninety days to fix the title issues with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). He also explained in detail the steps he had already taken in that regard.

         [¶3] Lewis provided all the documents requested by Deputy Simmons regarding the vehicle and asked if he was in trouble. Deputy Simmons responded negatively and invited Lewis to sit in the passenger seat of the police vehicle with him.[2]The computer was running slowly, so it took approximately fifteen minutes to check Lewis's license, which the deputy confirmed was in good standing.

         [¶4] Deputy Simmons then asked Lewis questions about Lewis's wife, their relationship, what Lewis does for a living, what his wife does for a living, what hotel Lewis stayed at in Ohio, whether he owned a house, what type of gas mileage his car received, where his siblings live, and where he planned to stop on his drive back to Arizona. Lewis responded to each of the questions but prevaricated on certain details requested by Deputy Simmons. He stated that he was from Arizona and had driven to visit his brother in Akron, Ohio, after having a fight with his girlfriend, though later stated she was his wife of fifteen years. He initially said that he had purchased the vehicle from "Sergio," and then clarified that he bought it from a friend who had bought it from Sergio. Lewis did not know any further identifying information regarding Sergio.

         [¶5] About twenty minutes into the stop, Deputy Simmons told Lewis, "We are getting there. I think you are just about good here." Tr. Resp. Ex. A Part 1, File 2. Deputy Simmons told Lewis that he was going to give him a warning related to the basis for the traffic stop. After Deputy Simmons completed the warning ticket and all checks on Lewis's license and insurance, he asked Lewis whether he had ever been in any trouble for narcotics-related activity. Lewis said that there "might have" been something in Detroit. Id. The deputy then asked Lewis whether there were any narcotics, guns, or large sums of currency in the vehicle; Lewis said that there was not. Deputy Simmons clarified, "No narcotics?" Lewis paused before answering, "no," causing the deputy to note that "you had to think about that." Id. Deputy Simmons asked Lewis whether he would consent to a search of the vehicle; Lewis refused.

         [¶6] Deputy Simmons then conducted a K-9 sweep and the K-9 officer alerted twice on the vehicle's passenger side.[3] The deputy called for backup and, after the backup deputy arrived, Deputy Simmons conducted a warrantless search of Lewis's vehicle. He found a hidden compartment behind the rear seat; Lewis denied any knowledge of its existence or contents. Inside, the deputy found $77, 060 in cash and two digital scales, [4] but no illegal narcotics. Lewis repeatedly denied that the money was his. Deputy Simmons seized the currency for the purpose of turning it over to the federal government, with Lewis named as the respondent.[5]

         [¶7] On March 20, 2018, the State filed a motion for a turnover order to transfer the seized funds to the federal government pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-33-5-5.[6] Lewis objected and asked the trial court to hold a hearing. Ultimately, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on June 15, 2018, to determine whether the search of the vehicle was valid. On July 9, 2018, the trial court granted the State's petition, finding, in pertinent part, as follows:

7. . . . It is long standing law in Indiana that a "dog sniff" is not a search so the only argument that [Lewis] may have is that the sniff unduly delayed the stop. Here, the dog sniff takes approximately 5-minutes [sic]. [The] Court finds that this does not unduly delay [Lewis] as a dog sniff isn't a [s]earch, [so] the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana State Constitution is [sic] inapplicable.
8. Moreover, even if this was an impermissible search, [Lewis] says two times that (the money) is not his on the [dash camera video], when questioned by the deputy about the money. [Lewis] cannot disclaim ownership of the money at one instance and now claim that it is his. The only claim to ownership is via [Lewis's] attorney filing an "objection". Common sense would dictate that someone would know if he put $77, 060.00 in cash in the vehicle. So under this ...

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