Enlarge /. Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush.
An Indiana man could beat a drug persecution after a state warrant issued a search warrant against him late last week. The search warrant was based on the idea that the man had "stolen" a government GPS locator. But the Indiana Supreme Court decided he hadn't done anything like that – and the police should have known.
Last November, we wrote about the case of Derek Heuring, an Indiana man suspected of selling meth in the Warrick County Sheriff's Office. The authorities received an arrest warrant to attach a GPS tracker to Heuring & # 39; car and receive a data stream about his location for six days. But then the data stopped.
Officers suspected that Heuring had discovered and removed the tracking device. After waiting a few more days, they received an arrest warrant to ransack his father's house and barn. They argued that the disappearance of the tracking device was evidence that Heuring had stolen it.
During their search, the police found the locator and some methamphetamine. They accused Heuring of drug offenses and the theft of the GPS device.
In the trial, Heuring's lawyers argued that the warrant to search the house and barn was illegal. A search warrant application must provide a likely reason for a crime to be accepted. However, removing a small, unmarked object from your personal vehicle is not a crime at all, Heuring lawyers argued. Heuring had no way of knowing what the device was or who owned it – and certainly no obligation to leave the device in his vehicle.
An Indiana appeals court ruled against Heuring last year. But the Indiana Supreme Court seemed to be more sympathetic to Heuring at oral arguments last November.
"I really have problems with what this theft is like," said Judge Steven David during the oral presentation in November.
"We find it ruthless"
Last Thursday, Indiana's highest court officially made it and ruled that the search warrant that allowed the police to recover Heuring's meth was illegal. The police only suspected Heuring had removed the device, the court said, and that was not enough to get a search warrant.
Even if the police could prove that Heuring removed the device, it wouldn't prove that he stole it, the Supreme Court said. It is difficult to "steal" something if you have no idea who owns it. Classifying his act as theft would lead to absurd results, the court found.
"To find a fair chance of unauthorized control here, we would have to conclude that the Hoosiers are not authorized to remove unknown, unmarked objects from their personal vehicles," Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote for a unanimous court.
The High Court's ruling has a major impact on Heuring’s case. According to a principle known as an exclusion rule, evidence that was discovered with an invalid search warrant is excluded from the process. Without the meth obtained from the search, prosecutors may not have enough evidence to initiate proceedings against him.
The law in some cases allows a good faith exception to the exclusion rule when the police rely on an arrest warrant that later turns out to be defective. But Justice Rush concluded that the exception does not apply here.
"We find it ruthless for an official to search a suspect's house and father's barn based on the suspicion that a crime has been committed," the court wrote. "We are confident that applying the exclusion rule here will prevent similar reckless behavior in the future."