7/1/2013Indiana Supreme Court Upholds Stop For Mildly Tinted Windows
High court in Indiana finds no fault with traffic stop of vehicle with legally tinted windows.
Police can stop and search drivers who have fully legal window tint under a decision reached by the Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday. The justices were reviewing the case of Erving L. Sanders Jr who had been driving his 1991 Chevy Suburban, which had tinted back windows, through Indianapolis on January 28, 2011.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Keith Minch says he believed the Suburban's tint exceeded the state standard of now less than 30 percent light transmission. Photographs of of the vehicle taken by police show the car's steering wheel and windshield wiper could be seen through the rear window. Officer Minch confirmed at trial that this matched what he saw but that it was "kind of gloomy" that day and he was unable to verify Sanders' age, sex and ethnicity through the back window. Sanders is black. Officer Minch did not try to identify the driver through the front or driver's and passenger side windows, which were untinted.
An expert's measurement determined the tint was well within the standard, allowing 38 percent of light to pass through. That was not enough to allow Sanders to walk.
"Such proof of compliance with the window tint statute undoubtedly relieves the defendant of any liability for a window tint violation," Chief Justice Brent E. Dickson wrote for the court. "However, it does not serve to vitiate the legality of the traffic stop."
The court held that it was enough under Indiana law that the Officer Minch said he could not identify the occupant inside and that the tint "closely borders" the statutory limit.
"Considering this testimony in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling, as we must, the evidence clearly supports the ruling of the trial court," Justice Dickson wrote. "Although the officer was ultimately mistaken in his belief that a violation occurred, the traffic stop was based upon a good faith, reasonable belief that a statutory infraction had occurred and thus we are unable to say that the traffic stop was not lawful."
When Sanders was pulled over on the side of the road, Officer Minch immediately smelled marijuana. Sanders admitted he "just smoked a joint." The officer ordered Sanders out of the car and searched him, finding a bag with white powder. The officer asked if it was heroin, but Sanders said, no, it was cocaine.
Sanders is currently serving time in an Indiana prison until May 14, 2014. A copy of the court's ruling is available in a 140k PDF file at the source link below.