11/14/2007

Ind. high court hears police oath dispute

By Jon Murray
Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments this morning in the appeal of a Marion Superior Court judge's ruling that could throw into question nearly all arrests made by Indianapolis police this year.

Judge Reuben Hill dismissed a woman's drunken-driving charges in August, ruling her January arrest was invalid because the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer in the case had not been sworn in again this year after the merger of county police agencies.
The former IPD and the Marion County Sheriff's Department became IMPD Jan. 1. The next day, some officers and top brass took part in a swearing-in ceremony, but attendance wasn't required.

Today, the Indiana attorney general's office and attorneys for Cheryl Oddi-Smith split the 40 minutes allotted before the five-justice panel. Chief Justice Randall Shepard said the court likely would decide the issue soon.

Prosecutors and state attorneys argue the officers' sworn status carried over through the merger.

Even so, said Cynthia Ploughe, a deputy attorney general, "there is no law that requires officers of the IMPD to be sworn." Indiana law requires an oath only of officers who train others at the law enforcement academy, she said, making the oath ceremonial for others.

Attorney James Voyles disputed that. He and his co-counsel, Annie Fierek, had asked Hill to suppress any evidence gathered as the result of Oddi-Smith's arrest.

"It's not a simple matter," Voyles said. "It's a matter involving our constitutional protections when we put officers on the street."
The justices challenged both sides, with several pressing Voyles to explain the importance of re-taking the oath after the merger when the officers had taken it before.

"Why does the prior oath evaporate?" Justice Brent E. Dickson said.

Voyles said anytime a police officer begins work for a new agency, the oath should administered.

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