The authorities may have inadvertently given hundreds or even thousands of people accused of drunken driving, dealing drugs and other crimes a way to get off the hook: The arresting officers were never sworn in.
A judge has ruled that a drunken-driving arrest was invalid because the officer had not been sworn in as a member of a new police department formed when the city police and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department merged on Jan. 1. Other officers also were not sworn in.
At the time of the merger, the sheriff and other high-ranking officers attended a swearing-in ceremony, but most officers did not. Those officers had been sworn in by their former departments, so officials did not think it was necessary for them to take another oath.
That was a mistake, Judge Reuben Hill of Superior Court ruled this week.
“Indiana state law requires all police officers to be sworn to duty with the agency to
whom they are employed,” Judge Hill wrote in granting a defense motion for dismissal. Since the officer had not been sworn in by the new agency, the judge wrote, he “was not statutorily or constitutionally empowered to enforce the law
of this state.”
The state said it planned to appeal the ruling, which Attorney General Steve Carter said raised “questions about the propriety of hundreds, if not thousands, of arrests that have been made this year by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.”
Even if the ruling is upheld, the jail doors would not necessarily be opened wide, said James Voyles, one of the defense lawyers who made the motion leading to the court decision. Some arrests could still be valid, and motions for dismissal would have to be filed and argued in each case, Mr. Voyles said.
Kobi Wright, the head city-county attorney, said the ruling baffled him. Two other judges have denied similar defense motions, Mr. Wright said.
“I don’t think it’s credible to state that the city should reswear officers who were already sworn in,” Mr. Wright said.
Mr. Wright and Mr. Carter both said there was no statutory requirement that
police officers take an oath, and Mr. Wright said the state code cited by the judge in his ruling did not apply to police officers covered under a bargaining contract, like those in Indianapolis.
However, a professor who is an expert in criminal procedure said that the
case was not so clear and that it raised a “legitimate question.”
The professor, Henry C. Karlson of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, said the question was not whether state law required an oath — he said it did — but whether the merged department was a new agency or a continuation of one of its predecessors.
If it is a new department, everyone should be sworn in, Mr. Karlson said.
If it is a continuation, he said, then officers of the agency that was being absorbed would have to be sworn in.
A police spokesman, Capt. Phil Burton, said the department had no plans to require officers to take another oath.
IMPD officials are digging in their heels and still refusing to swear in the IMPD officers. Would someone please explain to the folks on the 25th floor this is something that's not worth taking to risk? Just swallow your pride and swear in the officers.
Hat tip to Indiana Barrister.