Indiana Supreme Court, on Remand From U.S. Supreme Court, Rules Against Defendant Finding Harmless Error

Back on August 9, this author mentioned this case as one where there would be follow up as the U.S. Supreme Court remanded this matter in light of Carpenter v. United States back to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Court opened with the most interesting phrase: “As technology advances, what was once the stuff of science fiction may enter the canon of constitutional law.”

Upon reconsideration, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the retrieval of the CSLI was harmless error, ruling again against the Defendant.

In this case, the police were investigating two armed robberies that had occurred less than one week apart at liquor stores in Dearborn County, Indiana. The police interviewed eyewitnesses and reviewed security video from both crimes. With respect to one of the robberies, one of the employees received a phone call from an out of state Ohio number inquiring when the store would close. The employee gave this phone number from the caller ID to police.

Using Facebook’s search function, the phone number popped to the Defendant. They submitted a “Emergency Request Form” to Sprint, asking for GPS location information and a Call Detail Records WITH Cell Sites (last 30 Days)” for the phone number that called that store.

The Defendant was immediately found in Ohio by law enforcement there. He was arrested for a traffic offense and he had the phone in question in his possession.

On remand, the State argued that the exigent circumstances exception applied. In light of other evidence implicating him, they also invoked the harmless error doctrine.

The Indiana Supreme Court declined to decide this case on the grounds of exigent circumstances, finding that the error was harmless. In so finding, the Court decided that certain evidence that was found based on search warrants was unrelated to the CSLI and therefore, not the fruit of the poisonous tree.

The Court also invoked the good faith exception because the officers did not have the benefit of the Carpenter decision. The Court went into a large amount of detail to bolster its decision that the evidence without the CSLI would have convicted the defendant anyway.

The case is Zanders v. State, 118 N.E.3d 736, 2019 Ind. LEXIS 46, 2019 WL 1090575, Indiana Supreme Court (March 8, 2019).

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