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Hodges v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 27, 2019

Michael Hodges, Appellant (Defendant)
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff)

          Argued: April 11, 2019

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49D11-1711-MI-40912 The Honorable John F. Hanley, Judge The Honorable Ian Stewart, Commissioner

          On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 18A-MI-78

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Matthew S. Abels Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Stephen R. Creason Chief Counsel Justin F. Roebel Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          OPINION

          Rush, Chief Justice.

         Today we address a narrow question: did probable cause support the seizure of property that a court later ordered state police officers to turn over to federal authorities? While we answer this question affirmatively, we cannot-and do not-speculate about whether civil forfeiture of the property would be appropriate.

         Here, a shipped box raised the suspicion of an interdiction officer: it displayed hallmarks of parcels containing drugs and drug money, and the officer's canine partner indicated the package bore the scent of narcotics. The officer successfully sought a warrant authorizing a search of the package and seizure of, among other items, proceeds of drug trafficking.

         When officers opened the box, they found U.S. currency wrapped in multiple layers of sealed packaging. After a canine alerted that the money itself-not just the packaging-contained the odor of narcotics, officers seized the cash and obtained a court order to turn it over to federal authorities.

         Michael Hodges, the person who shipped the parcel, argues that the seizure was unlawful because it exceeded the warrant's scope-making the turnover of the cash improper. We disagree. The totality of the circumstances established the necessary probable cause to believe the money was proceeds of drug trafficking.

         Because the seizure was lawful, we affirm the turnover order.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In October 2017, Detective Brian Thorla and his canine partner, K9 Hogan, were conducting parcel investigations at an Indianapolis FedEx shipping facility. They had been doing these investigations together for more than two years, though each of them had prior experience. Detective Thorla had been working as a law-enforcement officer since 2004 and as a controlled-substance-detection K9 handler since 2014. And K9 Hogan had over five years of service in narcotic detection.

         The two had a routine. As parcels were sorted on belts and diverters, the detective watched for packages with characteristics common to parcels containing controlled substances or money involved in drug trafficking. Those characteristics included shipment to or from a "source" state; use of a common name, like Smith, Brown, or Johnson; use of a new box from the shipping company; heavy tape; cash payment for shipping; priority overnight shipping; and not requiring a signature upon delivery.

         Packages with a suspicious set of features would be removed from the sorting line and placed on an open platform. K9 Hogan would then examine each of the selected packages. If the dog indicated that a package had a narcotic odor, the package would be taken to another area, where it would be placed with similarly sized parcels. K9 Hogan would then conduct a second examination. If he again indicated a narcotic odor on a package, that parcel would be set aside in a secured location, and Detective Thorla would seek a warrant to search it.

         The pair followed this routine on October 26, 2017. Detective Thorla spotted a package with a suspicious combination of characteristics. It had been shipped to the "source" state of California; it was addressed from Michael Hodges to Christopher Smith; it was a new FedEx box, sealed with more tape than necessary; the shipment appeared to have been ...


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