INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that police making a traffic stop have the right to search a car's glove box for weapons, even if it is locked.
The 2-1 decision upheld a Fort Wayne man's 2009 murder conviction after a gun seized during a traffic stop search was found to have been used in a killing. Anthony Parish is serving an 86-year prison sentence for murder, robbery and carrying a handgun without a license.
Parish initially was released with a minor citation after Fort Wayne officer police stopped him for not using his turn signal on Sept. 3, 2008, and seized a handgun, marijuana and scales they found in the locked glove box of his car.
Ballistics tests later linked the gun to the killing nine days earlier of Antoine Woods, who had been shot to death in the front seat of his car near a bar.
Parish argued that the warrantless search that turned up the gun in his car was unconstitutional because the weapon posed no threat to officers while it was in the locked glove box, and he was handcuffed outside the car.
But the three-judge panel noted that police were on high alert and that Parish was armed and a suspect in several shootings. The decision said that federal courts have found such searches by officers concerned for their safety don't violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
"We think it goes without saying that a glove box is a place where a weapon could easily be placed or hidden," Judge Paul D. Matthias wrote in the 15-page ruling. The key is whether it is accessible, and the ruling noted that suspects could get guns out of glove boxes when police allow them to return to the car.
"Although we may question why the police allowed Parish to leave the stop with only a minor traffic citation despite discovery of marijuana, scales, and a handgun in the locked glove box, this does not change our ultimate conclusion that the protective search of that glove box was permissible under the Fourth Amendment," Matthias wrote.
Judge Patricia Riley dissented, saying that Parish did not pose a threat to the officers because he was handcuffed outside the car. She said it would have been more "prudent" to arrest Parish as a suspect in several shootings and obtain a search warrant.
Nobody answered a telephone call Tuesday to the office of Parish's attorney.