Hardin v. State, No. 20S-CR-418, __ N.E.3d __ (Ind., Jun. 23, 2020).

Goff, J.

Both our federal and state constitutions provide protections from unreasonable searches and seizures. This case implicates those protections by raising the following question: Do law-enforcement officers violate either constitution by searching a person’s vehicle when the person drives that vehicle up to his or her house while officers are there executing a search warrant for the house that does not address vehicles? Based on the circumstances here, we answer “no” and affirm the trial court. In arriving at that answer, we provide guidance on the test applicable to these specific types of situations under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We also survey our precedent under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution and provide generally applicable guidance on our totality-of-the-circumstances test.

Hardin argues that the trial court should not have admitted the evidence found during the search of his vehicle because the search violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. He acknowledges that the law-enforcement officers obtained a warrant for his home and that the trial court found that his vehicle was within the home’s curtilage when the officers searched it. Neither Hardin nor the State asks us to address whether the vehicle was parked within the home’s curtilage, so we assume without deciding that the trial court correctly resolved that issue. Instead, Hardin contends that the search was constitutionally unreasonable and not supported by the warrant for his home, which addressed neither vehicles generally nor his vehicle specifically. We consider the nuances of this argument under the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 below.

I. The search of Hardin’s vehicle did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the vehicle fell within the scope of the warrant for Hardin’s home.

A warrant covering a house allows searches of things and places within the house that could contain the object of the search. United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 820–21 (1982) (“A lawful search of fixed premises generally extends to the entire area in which the object of the search may be found and is not limited by the possibility that separate acts of entry or opening may be required to complete the search.”). The boundaries of a house for Fourth Amendment purposes extend beyond the physical structure of the house itself to include the curtilage—that is, “the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home.” Collins v. Virginia, 138 S. Ct. 1663, 1670 (2018) (citations omitted). Thus, the holding of Ross extends into the curtilage, meaning that a warrant for a house generally allows searches of the things and places located in the curtilage that could contain the object of the search. See Sowers v. State, 724 N.E.2d 588, 590–91 (Ind. 2000). This case tests the limits of that established Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Specifically, it requires us to answer the following question: When can police, armed with a warrant to search a home, search a vehicle located in the home’s curtilage?

We find that the better of these two approaches is to consider ownership or control of a vehicle in determining whether it falls within the scope of a general premises warrant, excluding vehicles of guests or other visitors from the warrant’s scope. Vehicles of guests and other visitors to a home are on the property only temporarily, whether it’s to visit with a friend, to deliver a package, or for some other reason. When a warrant for a home fails to mention such a transient vehicle, the probable cause supporting the warrant does not extend to that vehicle which happens to be temporarily on the property when officers execute the warrant. See 2 LaFave, Search and Seizure § 4.10(c), at 956–57 (“[T]he probable cause determination made by the magistrate [regarding the home to be searched] does not extend to the vehicle the visitor has left outside.”). However, the probable cause supporting a warrant for a home would extend to the owner or resident’s vehicle given the close, long-term connections between the owner/resident, the home, and the vehicle. Thus, we conclude that a general warrant to search a specifically described premises like a home includes the ability to search vehicles within the curtilage that could contain the object of the search and that are “either actually owned or under the control and dominion of the premises owner [or resident] or, alternatively, those vehicles which appear, based on objectively reasonable indicia present at the time of the search, to be so controlled.” Gottschalk, 915 F.2d at 1461. Accord 2 LaFave, Search and Seizure § 4.10(c), at 955–56 (“[T]he conclusion that a description of premises covers vehicles parked thereon should at least be limited to vehicles under the control (actual or apparent) of the person whose premises are described.”).

This test is easily met here. Neither party challenges the trial court’s finding that Hardin’s vehicle was in the home’s curtilage when law enforcement searched it, and the vehicle could contain the drugs and related items described in the search warrant. And three independent bases supported the connection between Hardin and his vehicle. First, police knew, based on their prior observations of Hardin and the vehicle’s registration, that Hardin owned the vehicle. Second, police knew that the vehicle was under Hardin’s control by their prior observations of him driving it combined with the fact that he drove it to his house right before the search. See United States v. Rivera, 738 F. Supp. 1208, 1218–19 (N.D. Ind. 1990) (upholding a search of a truck that officers had seen the defendant drive up the driveway of his house right before the search and on other, prior occasions). Third, even if the police didn’t know that he owned and controlled the vehicle, his act of driving it into his own driveway right before the search represents an objectively reasonable indicator of his control over the vehicle. As a result, the general premises warrant permitting law enforcement’s search of Hardin’s home also supported law enforcement’s search of his vehicle, and this search did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

II. The search of Hardin’s vehicle did not violate Article 1, Section 11 because it was reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances.

Hardin also argues that the search of his vehicle violated Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Although Article 1, Section 11 contains language nearly identical to the Fourth Amendment, we interpret Article 1, Section 11 independently.

While acknowledging the possibility of “other relevant considerations under the circumstances,” we stated that the reasonableness of a law-enforcement officer’s search or seizure requires balancing three factors: “1) the degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that a violation has occurred, 2) the degree of intrusion the method of the search or seizure imposes on the citizen’s ordinary activities, and 3) the extent of law enforcement needs.” Litchfield, 824 N.E.2d at 361. When weighing these factors as part of our totality-of-the-circumstances test, we consider the full context in which the search or seizure occurs.

Balancing the three Litchfield factors based on the totality of the circumstances, we find this search reasonable. First, based on the warrant and developments from other investigations, the officers had an extremely high degree of concern that Hardin’s vehicle contained illegal drugs. This factor weighs heavily in the State’s favor. Second, while officers intruded on Hardin’s privacy by searching his vehicle, they reduced the degree of that intrusion by exercising restraint in conducting their search. Their search also did not intrude on Hardin’s physical movements since he had already been detained. Thus, while officers moderated the intrusion, they still intruded into his ordinary activities, and this factor weighs moderately in Hardin’s favor. Third, given the general need to combat drug trafficking and their possession of a warrant for Hardin’s home, officers had at least a moderate need to search Hardin’s vehicle when they did. This factor weighs moderately in the State’s favor. On balance, the moderate intrusion here did not outweigh the law-enforcement concerns and needs, and the search did not violate Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

CONCLUSION

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. The search here did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the law-enforcement officers knew that Hardin owned and controlled the vehicle searched and objectively reasonable indicia showed the same, so the vehicle in this situation fell within the scope of the warrant for the home. The search did not violate Article 1, Section 11 because the high degree of law enforcement concern and moderate law-enforcement need outweighed the moderate intrusion caused by the search, so the search was constitutionally reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances. Thus, we affirm the trial court’s admission of the evidence obtained from the search of the vehicle.

Massa, J., concurs.

Slaughter, J., concurs with separate opinion.

David, J., concurs in part, dissents in part with separate opinion in which Rush, C.J., joins.

Slaughter, J., concurring.

I agree that the warrantless search of Hardin’s vehicle did not violate his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution or its counterpart in the Indiana Constitution. I join the Court’s opinion because I agree with its legal analysis, including how it applied our three factor Litchfield test to Hardin’s claims under Article 1, Section 11 of our state constitution. See Litchfield v. State, 824 N.E.2d 356 (Ind. 2005). I write separately, however, to highlight a recurring problem with Litchfield. In the fifteen years since we decided Litchfield, our case reports have ballooned with examples of ongoing uncertainty among litigants and lower courts with how to apply its three factors for assessing whether challenged law-enforcement activity violates our constitution.

This longstanding uncertainty is evident here. Although the underlying facts are undisputed, respected jurists at all levels of our judiciary have arrived at different conclusions about what Litchfield means for Hardin. The nine judges who have reviewed his case have looked at the same facts and applied the same legal standard. Yet we have reached widely varying conclusions about the legal consequence of these uncontested facts. I cannot imagine a clearer sign of precedent in need of reconsideration.

Going forward, I hope the opportunity arises to consider a bright-line rule as a successor test to Litchfield for interpreting Article 1, Section 11— one consistent with our framers’ constitution and with the text, history, and structure of this constitutional provision.

David, Justice, concurring in part, dissenting in part.

I concur in Part I of this opinion and wish to commend the majority’s well-reasoned Fourth Amendment analysis. I respectfully dissent from Part II, however, because our state’s constitution provides heightened protections for Hoosiers and, in my view, the facts of this particular case weigh differently than the majority’s conclusion. I would find that the evidence obtained from Hardin’s vehicle must be suppressed because the search was unreasonable under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

In the present case, I believe a warrant not only could have been obtained, but that it should have been obtained. Much like the majority, I agree that this case demands careful application of our precedent in Litchfield. Respectfully, however, I would balance these factors in a way similar to our Court of Appeals colleague Judge Mathias and find that the search of Hardin’s vehicle was unreasonable.

On balance, I believe the search was unreasonable under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution because, although the degree of concern or suspicion was relatively high, both the level of intrusion and needs of law enforcement weigh heavily against the State. I would suppress the evidence obtained from Hardin’s vehicle and remand this matter for a new trial.

Rush, C.J., joins.

 

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