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Santiago v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 3, 2019

Edgar Santiago, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Hendricks Superior Court No. 32D04-1806-CM-826. The Honorable Mark A. Smith, Judge.

          Attorney for Appellant Zachary J. Stock Attorney at Law, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Chandra K. Hein Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          BAKER, JUDGE.

         [¶1] Edgar Santiago appeals his conviction for Class A Misdemeanor Driving While Suspended, [1] arguing that the trial court erred when it admitted evidence of his suspended driver's license because the prolonged stop violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Facts

         [¶2] On June 19, 2018, Avon Police Department Officer Mercedes Spicer was patrolling in her fully marked police car when she stopped behind a Toyota truck at a red light. Officer Spicer ran a license plate check of the truck and discovered that it belonged to a man named Valentine Hernandez and that Hernandez's license had been suspended. Officer Spicer spotted the driver of the truck and saw that he, too, was a man. With this information, she turned on her patrol lights and conducted a traffic stop under the suspicion that the driver, who Officer Spicer believed was Hernandez, was operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license.

         [¶3] Officer Spicer then approached the driver's side of the vehicle and told the driver, who was later identified as Santiago, that she had stopped the vehicle because the owner's driver's license had been suspended. Santiago, the sole occupant of the vehicle, told Officer Spicer that his cousin owned the truck and that he was not Valentine Hernandez. To confirm this information, Officer Spicer asked Santiago for his driver's license, but Santiago handed her a Mexican identification (ID) card identifying him as Edgar Santiago. Officer Spicer clarified that she wanted to see his driver's license and not just an ID card; Santiago replied that he did not have a driver's license.

         [¶4] Officer Spicer returned to her police car and ran a search of Santiago using his Mexican ID. She discovered that Santiago's driver's license had been suspended and that he had a prior conviction for driving while suspended. Consequently, Officer Spicer arrested Santiago and had the vehicle towed.

         [¶5] On June 20, 2018, the State charged Santiago with Class A misdemeanor driving while suspended. Soon after, Santiago filed a motion to suppress evidence that his driver's license was suspended, arguing that the prolonged investigatory stop violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial court denied his motion to suppress. At Santiago's February 25, 2019, bench trial, Santiago renewed his objection to the admission of the evidence, which the trial court overruled. The trial court found Santiago guilty as charged. During sentencing later that same day, the trial court imposed fines without any period of probation or incarceration. Santiago now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] Santiago raises one argument on appeal-namely, that the trial court erred when it admitted evidence of his suspended driver's license because the prolonged investigatory stop violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Specifically, Santiago contends that this evidence was obtained during an unconstitutional extension of an initially valid traffic stop.

         [¶7] As a general matter, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. "[T]he Fourth Amendment's 'protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that fall short of traditional arrest.'" Armfield v. State, 918 N.E.2d 316, 319 (Ind. 2009) (quoting United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002)). And evidence that is the product of an unlawful seizure is inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment. Hanna v. State, 726 N.E.2d 384, 389 (Ind.Ct.App. 2000) (holding that evidence obtained from illegal searches and seizures is "fruit of the poisonous tree" and is inadmissible in a court of law).

         [¶8] Reversal of a trial court's decision to admit evidence is appropriate only where the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances. Joyner v. State, 678 N.E.2d 386, 390 (Ind. 1997). "Moreover, we will sustain the trial court['s] [decision on the admission of evidence] if it can be done on any legal ground apparent in the record." Jester v. State, 724 N.E.2d 235, 240 (Ind. 2000). However, we will review a trial court's conclusions of law de novo, giving no weight to the legal analysis below. Sanders v. State, 989 N.E.2d 332, 334 (Ind. 2013). In reviewing determinations of reasonable suspicion specifically, we look at the totality of the circumstances of each case ...


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