The attorney of a Cloverdale man facing felony drug and weapons charges said in court Thursday that his client had been arrested and his vehicle had been searched and impounded unlawfully.
James Hullen Holder Jr., a Bainbridge attorney, said his client, Randy Aaron Sawyer, was initially detained and his vehicle impounded on Sept. 22 for no proof of insurance -- which is illegal in Indiana.
A report from Putnam County Sheriff's Department Lt. Dwight Simmons said he noticed the vehicle Sawyer was driving was traveling "well below the posted speed limit of 70 mph" on I-70 the night Simmons arrested Sawyer, and that he observed Sawyer's windshield was "cracked in several different places." When Sawyer made a right-hand turn, Simmons said, he "swung wide, traveling across the center line and into the oncoming traffic."
Simmons stopped Sawyer at that point. Sawyer produced a valid driver's license and registration for the vehicle, but did not have proof that the vehicle was insured.
Simmons put Sawyer in the rear seat of the police cruiser, and told Sawyer he would be impounding the vehicle. It was also at this point, court documents said, that Simmons advised Sawyer he would be doing an inventory search of Sawyer's vehicle.
That search turned up an unlicensed handgun, scales with residue on them that tested positive for methamphetamine and what Simmons suspected was a cutting agent for diluting controlled substances -- and led to Sawyer being placed under arrest.
Holder contended that under Indiana law, having no proof of insurance in a vehicle is an infraction, and that Simmons had no right to impound Sawyer's vehicle or search it. The next step, Holder said, should have been a citation and a court date for Sawyer during which he would have been required to produce proof of insurance.
"He was placed in the police car -- detained -- for the insurance, and it was at that time the other contraband was found," Holder said. "The basis for the search was absolutely illegal under Indiana law. They arrested (Sawyer) before the search, without a crime having been committed.
"Here we have an officer who believes it is appropriate to say, 'You don't have your insurance card, so I'm going to search your vehicle,'" Holder said. "The only place you have to show proof of financial responsibility is in a court of law. Most people don't carry that with them, and by statute they are not required to."
Holder said the state needed to prove that the seizure of his client's vehicle was necessary for the public safety and that if the vehicle was unsafe, impounding it was the only way to get it off the road.
"The officer didn't want to get the car off the road," Holder said. "He wanted to search the vehicle, and he did."
Deputy Prosecutor Justin Long said he didn't believe Sawyer had been arrested until after the handgun was found, but Holder argued that wasn't how the case narrative read and that wasn't the way his client remembered the order of events.
Simmons was not present in court Thursday.
Sawyer, 38, has been charged with possession of methamphetamine and carrying a handgun without a license, both Class C felonies punishable by up to eight years in prison. Sawyer is also facing a habitual offender designation, which could significantly increase his sentence.
Judge Matthew Headley said he would need to look over the statutes Holder cited in his arguments before he could make a determination on the legality of Sawyer's arrest. A trial in the case is set for Feb. 11, and Headley ordered that date would stand.
Sawyer was on parole through the Terre Haute Parole District when he was arrested in Putnam County. He was released from Putnam County on his own recognizance on Sept. 23, but has remained in jail on a parole hold since his arrest.
Sawyer has done prison time for a number of offenses, including possession of cocaine or narcotic drugs, possession of chemical reagents or precursors and forgery.