Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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October 24, 2012

Stuck signal no reason for stop

The Indiana Court of Appeals has thrown out a Kokomo man’s marijuana conviction, ruling police had no reason to search his car.

Rodney Killebrew II was arrested March 3, 2011, after Kokomo Police Officer Chad VanCamp pulled Killebrew over on North Apperson Way.

According to court documents, VanCamp said Killebrew drove straight through an intersection without turning, despite the fact Killebrew’s turn signal was flashing.

VanCamp claimed Killebrew’s failure to turn created a suspicion of impairment, which in turn justified pulling over Killebrew’s vehicle.

In a 14-page ruling, the appeals court disagreed, saying driving around with an activated turn signal is “equally common” among unimpaired drivers.

During a February bench trial, VanCamp testified it was common for people who aren’t impaired to go through intersections with their turn signals activated.

“Common for old people too, have you seen them?” Killebrew’s attorney asked during the trial.

“Absolutely, I’ve stopped them for it too,” VanCamp responded.

Stopping drivers for that reason “would be ripe for abuse and would not strike a reasonable balance between the government’s legitimate interest in traffic safety and an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy,” the ruling states.

The three-judge panel unanimously agreed it isn’t illegal, under Indiana law, for a driver to fail to turn, even if they have a turn signal flashing.

They also ruled those circumstances weren’t enough to create a reasonable suspicion of impairment.

With no legal reason to pull Killebrew over, VanCamp’s subsequent search violated Killebrew’s constitutional right against illegal search and seizure.

Since the search was illegal, Killebrew’s conviction on a single misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession must also be thrown out, the appeals court ruled.

Killebrew was found guilty of the charge by Howard Superior 1 Judge William Menges after a February 2012 bench trial.

During the trial, Killebrew’s attorney sought to suppress the evidence obtained from VanCamp’s search, but Menges allowed the search results into evidence.

The appeals court ruled Menges abused his discretion by allowing evidence obtained pursuant to an illegal traffic stop, and reversed Killebrew’s conviction.

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