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ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE:
JEFFREY A. MODISETT DAVID A. FEEBACK
Attorney General of Indiana Edris, Brown, Johnson & Feeback
Deputy Attorney General
COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
STATE OF INDIANA, )
vs. ) No. 90A02-9708-CR-540
CHRISTINA M. EILERS, )
APPEAL FROM THE WELLS SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Everett E. Goshorn, Judge
Cause No. 90D01-9603-CM-105
July 28, 1998
OPINION - FOR PUBLICATION
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Plaintiff-Appellant State of Indiana appeals the trial court's grant of Defendant-
Appellee Christina M. Eilers's (Eilers) motion to suppress evidence.
The State presents two issues for our review; however, we find the following issue
dispositive: Whether the trial court correctly determined that the evidence was the product
of an illegal stop pursuant to Ind. Code 9-19-10-3.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On March 14, 1996, Officer James Womack of the Ossian Police Department was
working on "seat belt patrol." When Officer Womack saw Eilers drive by him without her
seat belt on he pulled her over. After verifying her driver's license and license plate, Officer
Womack arrested Eilers for driving with a suspended license, possessing a false or fictitious
registration, failing to wear a seat belt, and possessing stolen property.
Eilers was charged on March 15, 1996, of driving with a suspended license, driving
with a false and fictitious registration, and driving without a seat belt. On August 8, 1996,
Eilers filed a motion to suppress evidence which was denied pursuant to a hearing. Eilers
then renewed her motion and another hearing was held at which Eilers offered the testimony
of State Representative Jeffrey Espich over the State's objection. The trial court admitted
Espich's testimony and then granted Eilers's motion to suppress. The State then brought this
interlocutory appeal. Additional facts will be provided as needed.
DISCUSSION AND DECISION
Eilers contends, and the trial court agreed, that she was stopped illegally by Officer
Womack and, therefore, the evidence obtained as a result of that stop should be suppressed.
She claims the stop was illegal because it was in contravention of Ind. Code 9-19-10-3. The
statute reads as follows: "A person may not be stopped, inspected, or detained solely to
determine compliance with this chapter." Ind. Code 9-19-10-3.See footnote
The State questions
whether the court erred in granting Eilers's motion to suppress evidence; the State's
argument is two fold: 1) whether testimony of Espich was improperly admitted at the
hearing, and 2) whether the trial court's interpretation of Ind. Code 9-19-10-3 is in error.
Because we base this ruling solely on statutory interpretation, we do not need to address the
issue of Espich's testimony.
When interpreting a statute the words and phrases in a statute are to be given their
plain, ordinary, and usual meaning unless a contrary purpose is clearly shown by the statute
itself. Saurer v. Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 629 N.E.2d 893, 897 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994).
Additionally, statutes relating to the same subject matter should be construed together in
order to produce a harmonious statutory scheme. Wilburn v. State, 671 N.E.2d 143, 147 (Ind.
Ct. App. 1996), trans. denied. Although it is true that we must look to legislative intent when
construing a statute with ambiguous language, "[i]f the language of a statute is clear and
unambiguous it is not subject to judicial interpretation." Town of Merrillville v. Merrillville
Conservancy Dist., 649 N.E.2d 645, 649 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), reh'g denied, trans. denied.
The language of the statute here is clear and unambiguous, therefore we do not need to look
beyond the statute for legislative intent.
Again, the statute at issue reads: "A person may not be stopped, inspected, or detained
solely to determine compliance with this chapter." Ind. Code 9-19-10-3. The parties debate
whether Officer Womack's actions constitute an "inspection." Undefined words in a statute
are given their plain, ordinary and usual meaning. Ind. Code 1-1-4-1(c); State v. D.M.Z.,
674 N.E.2d 585, 588 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), trans. denied. In determining the plain and
ordinary meaning of a statutory term, courts may use English language dictionaries as well
as consider the relationship with other words and phrases. D.M.Z., 674 N.E.2d at 588.
The parties agree on the definition of inspect as "to view closely and critically;
examine with care; scrutinize; or make an examination." Appellant's Brief at 8; Appellee's
Brief at 5. Officer Womack testified that his primary objective at the time he stopped Eilers
was to check specifically for seat belt violations. (R. 108, 111). He did this by observing
passing cars from thirty to forty feet. (R. 111). Watching for and then pulling over a passing
driver who is not wearing a seat belt is clearly an inspection solely to determine compliance
with Indiana's seat belt law, found at Ind. Code 9-19-10-2, and in violation of Ind. Code 9-
We hold that Eilers was stopped in violation of Ind. Code 9-19-10-3. Therefore, the
trial court did not err in granting Eilers's motion to suppress.CONCLUSION
The trial court did not err in granting Eilers's motion to suppress evidence attained
pursuant to the illegal stop for failing to wear a seat belt.
NAJAM, J., and BAILEY, J., concur.
Effective July 1, 1998, Ind. Code 9-19-10-3 was amended to read: "A vehicle may be stopped to
determine compliance with this chapter. However, a vehicle, the contents of a vehicle, the driver of a
vehicle, or a passenger in a vehicle may not be inspected, searched, or detained solely because of a violation
of this chapter." This amendment comes pursuant to P.L. 116-1998, approved March 13, 1998.
The State contends that Officer Womack simply observed the violation and then pulled Eilers over
and did not pull her over to look for the violation. We find this argument without merit in that he would have
to inspect the car, even while passing, to determine that she was indeed violating Ind. Code 9-19-10-2.
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