Attorney for Appellant
Robert W. Hammerle
HAMMERLE & ALLEN
Attorneys for Appellee
Attorney General of Indiana
Grant H. Carlton
Deputy Attorney General
INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA,
Appellee (Plaintiff below ).
) Supreme Court No.
) Court of Appeals No.
APPEAL FROM THE MARION COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Michael Jensen, Judge
Cause No. 49G20-9910-CF-180114
ON PETITION TO TRANSFER
June 28, 2002
Defendant Jason Ratliff appeals the trial courts denial of his request that evidence
discovered in a search of the truck he crashed while fleeing police not
be used against him. Finding that the evidence was discovered in a
lawful inventory of the trucks contents, we affirm the trial courts decision.
In October, 1999, the Louisiana State Police stopped a vehicle in which they
found approximately sixty-four thousand doses of valium. The occupants of the car,
Roberto Hernandez and Claudia Ortega, indicated that they intended to deliver the valium
to Defendant in Indianapolis, Indiana. Detectives in Indianapolis secured a room in
a motel to conduct a controlled buy from Defendant. Hernandez contacted Defendant
who agreed to conduct the transaction at the motel. When Defendant arrived
at the motel, Hernandez gave him a bag containing the valium. Defendant
put the bag in his truck, but told Hernandez that he didnt have
the money at the time and would have to return to make payment.
At that point, officers approached Defendants vehicle to arrest him, but Defendant
attempted to flee in his truck. Defendant crashed into another vehicle in
the parking lot and was subsequently arrested.
Shortly after Defendants arrest, Detective Shapiro drove Defendants truck to a nearby police
facility. Once at the facility, Detective Shapiro conducted an inventory of the
Defendants truck. During the inventory of items in the truck, Detective Shapiro
found a suitcase. The detective opened the suitcase, finding approximately $30,000.
Defendant was charged with Dealing a Schedule IV Controlled Substance, a class C
Possession of a Controlled Substance, a class D felony;
and Resisting Law
Enforcement, a class D Felony.
Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the $30,000 found in
the suitcase, contending that Detective Shapiro conducted an illegal search of his vehicle
at the police facility. The prosecution argued that the search fell under
the inventory exception to the warrant requirement, and that it was also valid
as a search incident to an arrest and the automobile exception to the
warrant requirement. The trial court denied Defendants motion to suppress on the
grounds that it was valid under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.
Having found the search valid on those grounds, the trial
court did not reach the issue of whether the evidence was obtained as
a result of a valid inventory.
Defendant filed a motion to certify the issue for interlocutory appeal, which the
trial court granted. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial
court, finding that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement did not apply.
See Ratliff v. State, 753 N.E.2d 38, 45 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001).
The Court of Appeals ordered the case remanded to the trial court
to determine whether the search of Defendants vehicle was conducted as a result
of a proper inventory.
As an appellate court, we may affirm a trial courts judgment on any
theory supported by the evidence. See Dowdell v. State, 720 N.E.2d 1146,
1152 (Ind. 1999). We will sustain the trial court if it can
be done on any legal ground apparent in the record. See Jester
v. State, 724 N.E.2d 235, 240 (Ind. 2000). Here, the record reflects
that the evidence in question was found as a result of a proper
inventory of Defendants vehicle.
The Fourth Amendment protects persons from unreasonable search and seizures and this protection
has been extended to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. U.S. Const.
amend. IV; Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 650 (1961). Generally,
the Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless searches and seizures. See Trowbridge v. State,
717 N.E.2d 138, 143 (Ind.1999), reh'g denied. When a search is
conducted without a warrant, the State has the burden of proving that an
exception to the warrant requirement existed at the time of the search.
See Berry v. State, 704 N.E.2d 462, 465 (Ind.1998) (citing Brown v. State,
691 N.E.2d 438, 443 (Ind.1998)). One exception to the warrant requirement
is an inventory search of an impounded vehicle vehicle. See Colorado v.
Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 371 (1987); South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364,
372 (1976); Fair v. State, 627 N.E.2d 427, 430 (Ind. 1993).
In determining the propriety of an inventory search, the threshold question is whether
the impoundment itself was proper. See Fair, 627 N.E.2d at 431.
An impoundment is warranted when it is part of routine administrative caretaking
functions of the police, see Opperman, 428 U.S. at 370 n. 5, or
when it is authorized by state statute, see Goliday v. State, 708 N.E.2d
4, 7 (Ind.1999); see, e.g., Ind. Code § 9-18-2-43 (1998). To show
that the inventory search was part of the community caretaking function, the State
must demonstrate that: the belief that the vehicle posed some threat or
harm to the community or was itself imperiled was consistent with objective standards
of sound policing, and ... the decision to combat that threat by impoundment
was in keeping with established departmental routine or regulation. Woodford v. State
, 752 N.E.2d 1278, 1281 (Ind. 2001) (citing Fair v. State, 627 N.E.2d
427, 433 (Ind. 1993)).
Impounding Defendants vehicle was consistent with Indiana State Police guidelines. Standard operating
procedures regarding abandoned vehicles direct that [d]epartment personnel shall cause abandoned vehicles or
parts of vehicles to be removed to a place of safekeeping. The
standard operating procedures state that an inventory of the property within a vehicle
or parts of a vehicle shall be conducted prior to the release of
the vehicle and/or parts to a storage area. The guidelines indicate that
the policy applies to vehicles that are involved in accidents [or] traffic hazards.
It is apparent from the record that the inventory search in this case
was proper. When the police approached Defendants truck, he attempted to flee
but crashed into another car before he could get out of the motel
parking lot. The truck was in the parking lot obstructing traffic because it
was not in a parking space. Detective Harshman stated that the truck
was removed to get it out of the middle of the parking lot.
An officer took the truck to a nearby police facility where the
The record includes the inventory sheet filled out by Detective Shapiro. Upon
Defendants arrest, his vehicle had just been in an accident and was abandoned
in the middle of the motel parking lot creating a traffic hazard.
It was therefore consistent with state police operating procedures to secure the car
and inventory the contents. The police impoundment and inventory of Defendants vehicle
was therefore conducted as part of its community care taking function. See
Stephens v. State, 735 N.E.2d 278, 282 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) (finding it
reasonable to impound a vehicle that faced the wrong way on a narrow
residential street near a high-traffic intersection); U.S. v. Rodriquez-Morales, 929 F.2d 780, 785
(1st Cir. 1991) (finding the community caretaking function applicable where the arrest of
a driver left his vehicle unattended on a public highway).
Having granted transfer, thereby vacating the opinion of the Court of Appeals, we
affirm the trial courts denial of Defendants motion to suppress.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, BOEHM, and RUCKER, JJ., concur.
Ind. Code § 35-48-4-3 (1998).
Id. § 35-48-4-7.
Id. Code § 35-44-3-3.