Was Firearm Discovered During Warrantless Search of Automobile Lawfully Seized?

Posted 10 months ago — Ooley Law Blog
In McAnalley v. State, No. 18A-CR-1099 (Ind. Ct. App. Oct. 18, 2019), Defendant was convicted in Marion County of a level 4 felony for unlawful possession of a firearm by serious violent felon. Defendant then appealed his conviction on the basis that the police search of his wife’s vehicle was unconstitutional.
Searches performed by government officials without warrants are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution  subject to a ‘few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.’ Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967). A search without a warrant requires the State to prove an exception to the warrant requirement applicable at the time of the search. White v. State, 772 N.E.2d 408, 411 (Ind.2002). In light of these restrictions on warrantless searches, there were two questions presented in this case:
  1. Did the warrantless search of McAnalley’s wife’s vehicle and the seizure of the handgun found therein violate the protections afforded under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
  2. Was the search of McAnalley’s wife’s vehicl eand seizure of the handgun found therein unreasonable under the protections afforded by article 1, section 11 of the Indiana Constitution?

To make a determination, the Court of Appeals considered the following facts:

After pulling over the vehicle occupied by the Defendant due to improper plating in a high-crime area, officer noticed Defendant-passenger making furtive movements by leaning forward toward front dashboard area.  Officer learned of Defendant’s outstanding felony arrest warrant and placed him in handcuffs after he stepped out of the car.  He was patted down and officer found an empty holster clipped to the waistband of his pants.  During a protective sweep of car, officers observed a handgun in plain view in open glove compartment area of vehicle. The officers did not have to touch or manipulate anything in the vehicle in order to see the gun.  After Defendant was Mirandized, he admitted that the gun was his and that he should not posssess it.  Although there is no crime for possession of a handgun by a person with an outstanding felony warrant, the handgun here was seized only after Defendant admitted ownership and that he should not have it.
Under totality of circumstances, the Court found that the officers’ behavior was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment or Article 1, Section 11 of Indiana Constitution and, therefore, found that the warrantless search of Defendant’s wife’s vehicle and seizure of handgun found therein did not violate Defendant’s federal or state constitutional protections. For a more thorough analysis of the facts and the law, you can view the Court’s opinion below or at this link.