Shannon C. Blankenship v. State of Indiana (mem. dec.) ( 2016 )

    Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D),
                                                                        Jul 25 2016, 8:45 am
    this Memorandum Decision shall not be
    regarded as precedent or cited before any                                CLERK
                                                                         Indiana Supreme Court
    court except for the purpose of establishing                            Court of Appeals
                                                                              and Tax Court
    the defense of res judicata, collateral
    estoppel, or the law of the case.
    ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT                                   ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
    Brandon E. Murphy                                        Gregory F. Zoeller
    Public Defender’s Office                                 Attorney General of Indiana
    Muncie, Indiana
                                                             Tyler G. Banks
                                                             Deputy Attorney General
                                                             Indianapolis, Indiana
                                               IN THE
    Shannon C. Blankenship,                                  July 25, 2016
    Appellant-Defendant,                                     Court of Appeals Case No.
            v.                                               Appeal from the Delaware Circuit
    State of Indiana,                                        The Honorable Thomas A.
    Appellee-Plaintiff.                                      Cannon, Jr., Judge
                                                             Trial Court Cause No.
    Robb, Judge.
    Court of Appeals of Indiana | Memorandum Decision 18A02-1601-CR-196 | July 25, 2016          Page 1 of 9
                                    Case Summary and Issue
    [1]   Following a bench trial, Shannon Blankenship was found guilty of operating a
          vehicle while privileges are suspended as an habitual traffic violator (“operating
          while HTV”), a Class D felony. Blankenship appeals his conviction, raising the
          sole issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence
          he alleges was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Concluding the
          traffic stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment and therefore the trial court
          did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence, we affirm.
                                Facts and Procedural History
    [2]   As part of an investigation he conducted in September 2011, Corporal Tony
          Skinner of the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department learned that
          Blankenship’s driver’s license was suspended due to Blankenship’s status as an
          habitual traffic violator. On February 20, 2012, Corporal Skinner saw
          Blankenship get into his car and drive away. Having reason to believe from his
          earlier investigation that Blankenship was driving on a suspended license,
          Corporal Skinner initiated a traffic stop. Blankenship, the sole occupant of the
          car, did not provide a driver’s license, but did provide his name and date of
          birth. A police dispatcher confirmed that Blankenship’s license was suspended.
    [3]   The State charged Blankenship with operating a vehicle while HTV. A week
          before his scheduled bench trial, Blankenship filed a motion to suppress
          evidence from the traffic stop, alleging the stop was premised on information
          Court of Appeals of Indiana | Memorandum Decision 18A02-1601-CR-196 | July 25, 2016   Page 2 of 9
    that was insufficient to establish reasonable suspicion. Because Corporal
    Skinner was the State’s lone witness, the trial court heard evidence on the date
    set for bench trial for the dual purposes of ruling on the motion to suppress and,
    if the motion was ultimately denied, determining Blankenship’s guilt. Corporal
    Skinner testified he conducted the traffic stop because he “knew that
    [Blankenship] was driving on [a] suspended license, an HTV status license.”
    Transcript at 10. The trial court denied Blankenship’s motion to suppress:
            [I]t would be a little bit easier if the officer had simply said,
            “When I saw Mr. Blankenship come out of his house, I did
            another quick license check and it was still HTV.” But, that
            doesn’t really go to the crucks [sic] of the matter here and that is,
            did he have reasonable suspicion based upon his prior
            investigation to make the investigatory stop . . . . And, in this
            case, I believe that the evidence would support that he did, that
            five months is not a sufficiently long period of time to make the
            information that an individual has a suspended license stale.
            Even if it did, the evidence in this case would support that the
            stop was only for the appropriate period of time to obtain driver’s
            license information or to call . . . the name and identifying
            information in to get a report which the officer testified that he
            did which then gave him the probable cause to then place the
            defendant under arrest. So, I think the officer’s actions in this
            case were based on reasonable suspicion from a totality of the
            circumstances . . . .
    Id. at 27-28. The trial court then found Blankenship guilty of operating a
    vehicle while HTV and sentenced him to serve three years on electronic home
    detention through a direct commitment to community corrections.
    Blankenship now appeals his conviction.
    Court of Appeals of Indiana | Memorandum Decision 18A02-1601-CR-196 | July 25, 2016   Page 3 of 9
                                       Discussion and Decision
                                            I. Standard of Review
    [4]   Our standard of reviewing rulings on the admissibility of evidence is the same
          whether the challenge is made by a pre-trial motion to suppress or by objection
          at trial: we must determine whether there is substantial evidence of probative
          value to support the ruling. Woodson v. State, 
    960 N.E.2d 224
    , 226 (Ind. Ct.
          App. 2012). In doing so, we do not reweigh evidence and we construe
          conflicting evidence most favorably to the ruling and uncontested evidence
          most favorably to the defendant. Id.
                                               II. Validity of Stop
    [5]   The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution affords individuals
          protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” 1 The Fourth
          Amendment’s protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons or
          vehicles that fall short of traditional arrest. Id. at 227 (citing United States v.
    534 U.S. 266
    , 273 (2002)). However, a lower standard than probable
          cause is sufficient to justify an investigatory stop: reasonable suspicion that
          criminal activity may be afoot. Id. Reasonable suspicion requires there be
            The Indiana Constitution extends similar protections. Ind. Const. art. 1, § 11. Notwithstanding the
          similarities, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution is interpreted independently from the Fourth
          Amendment. Robinson v. State, 
    5 N.E.3d 362
    , 368 (Ind. 2014). Blankenship’s motion to suppress raised the
          question of whether the stop violated the Indiana Constitution but his appeal does not. Any claim of error
          under the Indiana Constitution is therefore forfeited. See Wertz v. State, 
    41 N.E.3d 276
    , 278 n.1 (Ind. Ct. App.
          2015), trans. denied.
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          “some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be,
          engaged in criminal activity.” Id. (quoting United States v. Cortez, 
    449 U.S. 411
          417 (1981)). When we review an investigatory stop for reasonable suspicion,
          we look at the totality of the circumstances in the particular case to see whether
          the officer has a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal
          wrongdoing.” Id. (quoting Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273) (internal quotation marks
          omitted). We review trial court determinations of reasonable suspicion de
          novo. State v. Bulington, 
    802 N.E.2d 435
    , 438 (Ind. 2004).
    [6]   Blankenship relies primarily on Armfield v. State, 
    918 N.E.2d 316
     (Ind. 2009), to
          support his argument that Corporal Skinner’s knowledge of Blankenship’s
          license status five months prior to the stop was insufficient to support
          reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity by driving his
          vehicle at the time of the stop.2 In Armfield, an officer on patrol ran a routine
          license plate check on a 1992 GMC that indicated the driving privileges of the
          registered owner of the vehicle, Thomas Armfield, had been suspended for life.
          The officer verified the license plate, make, model, and color of the GMC
          matched the results from the check but was unable to verify anything about the
          identity of the driver as he passed the vehicle. The officer initiated a traffic stop
          to identify the driver. The driver had no physical form of identification but
          affirmed his name was Thomas Armfield and gave his date of birth. Armfield
              The State agrees the Armfield analysis is the appropriate test. See State’s Brief of Appellee at 7-8.
          Court of Appeals of Indiana | Memorandum Decision 18A02-1601-CR-196 | July 25, 2016                         Page 5 of 9
          was charged with operating a motor vehicle after forfeiture of license for life, a
          Class C felony. Armfield’s pre-trial motion to suppress was denied by the trial
          court, and his in-court objection to the officer’s testimony was overruled. A
          jury found him guilty as charged.
    [7]   Our supreme court considered the question of “whether a police officer’s
          knowledge that the registered owner of a vehicle has a suspended license
          constitutes reasonable suspicion to initiate an investigatory traffic stop.” Id. at
          318. After considering the divergent line of Court of Appeals cases on this issue
          and how state courts in other jurisdictions have addressed it, the court held “an
          officer has reasonable suspicion to initiate a Terry stop when (1) the officer
          knows that the registered owner of a vehicle has a suspended license and (2) the
          officer is unaware of any evidence or circumstances which indicate that the
          owner is not the driver of the vehicle.” Id. at 321-22. Based on the
          circumstances of the stop, the court held the investigatory stop of Armfield’s
          vehicle was proper because the officer had knowledge that Armfield was the
          registered owner of the vehicle and that Armfield had a lifetime license
          suspension and he was unaware of any evidence or circumstances indicating
          Armfield was not the driver of the vehicle at the time of the stop. Id. at 322; see
          also Holly v. State, 
    918 N.E.2d 323
    , 325-26 (Ind. 2009) (applying Armfield
          framework to hold officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate a Terry stop when
          a routine license plate check indicated the registered owner of the vehicle
          traveling in front of him had a suspended license; however, the check also
          returned information that the registered owner of the vehicle was a female and
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          when the officer observed upon stopping the car that the driver was a male, he
          had no justification for extending the stop by requesting identifying information
          from the driver); Johnson v. State, 
    21 N.E.3d 841
    , 846 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014)
          (holding police officer lacked reasonable suspicion to request identification from
          driver of vehicle registered to a suspended driver after passenger in the car
          advised she was the registered owner and officer had no reason to disbelieve
          her), trans. denied.
    [8]   Armfield and cases following it turned on the second prong of the Armfield
          framework—whether there were circumstances indicating the driver of a vehicle
          was not the person whom police knew had a suspended license. Here, there
          seems to be no dispute that Corporal Skinner knew Blankenship was the driver
          of the vehicle, as Blankenship was personally known to him and he witnessed
          Blankenship enter the car and drive away as the sole occupant. Rather, this
          case concerns an issue with respect to the first prong, which Blankenship states
          as “whether a police officer is required to verify that the driver of the vehicle is
          suspended before there is reasonable suspicion to initiate a Terry stop.”
          Defendant-Appellant’s Brief at 9. He parses the language in Armfield very
          specifically and contends Corporal Skinner did not “know” when he initiated
          the stop Blankenship had a suspended license, he “only knew that [Blankenship]
          once had a suspended license.” Id. at 10.
    [9]   We acknowledge Blankenship’s concern that a law enforcement officer not be
          allowed to stop a vehicle based on his prior knowledge of any type of
          suspension, no matter how dated. And we agree with the trial court that it
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           would have been a simple matter for Corporal Skinner to confirm that
           Blankenship still had a suspended license prior to initiating the traffic stop.
           Regardless, we cannot agree with Blankenship that under the facts of this case
           he was required to do so. “[R]easonable suspicion . . . is dependent upon both
           the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability.”
           Washburn v. State, 
    868 N.E.2d 594
    , 601 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), trans. denied. Both
           the quantity and quality of the information—including its purported staleness—
           are to be assessed in evaluating whether reasonable suspicion exists based on
           the totality of the circumstances. Id. “[S]ufficient probability, not certainty, is
           the touchstone of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment . . . .” Hill v.
    401 U.S. 797
    , 804 (1971).
    [10]   Corporal Skinner knew from an investigation just a few months prior that
           Blankenship had a suspended license. Presumably, he also learned at that time
           that Blankenship’s license was suspended effective November 2010 for a period
           of ten years. See State’s Exhibit 1 (certified copy of Blankenship’s driving
           record from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles). The stop occurred only a
           little over a year into that suspension. It is true that in the five months since
           Corporal Skinner first learned of Blankenship’s license suspension, various
           things could have happened to affect that status, but no evidence or
           circumstances exist that would indicate Corporal Skinner had reason to believe
           that had happened. Accordingly, Corporal Skinner had reasonable suspicion to
           initiate an investigatory stop and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in
           admitting evidence from the stop. If Corporal Skinner’s information had
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           indeed been wrong due to events in the intervening five months, Blankenship
           would have been on his way within a matter of minutes.
    [11]   Under the totality of these circumstances, Corporal Skinner had reasonable
           suspicion that Blankenship was operating a car with a suspended license and
           was therefore justified in initiating a brief traffic stop. The trial court did not
           abuse its discretion in allowing evidence obtained as a result of the stop.
           Blankenship’s conviction is affirmed.
    [12]   Affirmed.
           Najam, J., and Crone, J., concur.
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