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Indiana Man’s Contention on Stop without Probable Cause Upheld by Appeals Court
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Last week, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the denial by the trial court of a motion to suppress evidence by a man who argued the police lacked probable cause to stop his Jeep. The three-judge panel held the evidence against Brad Kroft was inadmissible and should have been suppressed.

In the instant case, on April 22, 2012, Kroft was stopped by an Indiana State Police Trooper because there was a dime-sized hole in one of the taillights of his car. The police stopped the car and followed up with routine procedures ending in Kroft being charged with driving under influence.

  
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The appeals court held the stopping of the vehicle under the given circumstances was unlawful.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Vaidik wrote, “Both of Kroft’s tail lamps worked … And there is simply no evidence that Kroft posed any danger to motorists approaching him from behind because of the dime-sized hole in his tail lamp.”

As reason for stopping the car, Indiana State Police Trooper Mike McCreary testified that. “The lens on the taillight was cracked and it was emitting a white light to the rear of the vehicle.”

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However, the court observed, “Trooper McCreary testified that he pulled over Kroft simply because there was white light coming out of the tiny hole; he did not testify that he had trouble spotting Kroft’s Jeep from behind. Accordingly, Trooper McCreary did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Kroft.”

During his trial Kroft argued that the requirement of the state law was that all motor vehicles have two tail lamps emitting a red light that can be seen from a distance of 500 ft to the rear. Since his Jeep’s taillights met the requirements of the state code, Kroft argued, the evidence should be suppressed. However, the trial court agreed with the prosecutors and did not suppress the evidence.



The appeals court did not agree. Judge Vaidik observed, “The state, however, is mistaken about the requirements of Section 9-19-6-4,” referring to the argument of the state that the pinpoint of white light escaping beside the red lights was sufficient to stop the vehicle.

Vaidik wrote, “There is no requirement about ‘only’ red light being visible from a distance of 500 feet … Defendant’s Exhibit A shows that while a miniscule amount of white light slipped through the dime-sized hole, the red light was overwhelming. And notable, Trooper McCreary did not allege that the passenger-side tail lamp did not emit red light plainly visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear.”

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals allowed suppression of the evidence, without which, of course, the rest of the case won’t have any leg to stand upon, as the act of stopping the car, in itself becomes void ab initio due to lack of probable cause.

The image is not that of the Jeep involved in the instant case



 

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