For about an hour on Tuesday, the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall became a courtroom as a three-judge panel from the Indiana Court of Appeals visited Butler—both to hear the case of Otis Sams Jr. v. State of Indiana and to demystify part of the legal process for students and the public.
“It gives us an opportunity to go out into the communities—normally, we don’t attract big audiences—and allow people to see what we do,” Judge Margret Robb told the audience of about 100 during a question-and-answer session after the hearing. “Television does a lot about trial courts and they don’t do much about appellate courts. This is really our opportunity to educate the public about what we do and how we do it.”
The panel of judges—Robb, Butler alumnus James Kirsch ’68, and Paul Mathias—heard 45 minutes of arguments in a case in which a motorist stopped for a broken taillight was eventually found, during an inventory of his truck, to have 25 grams of methamphetamine hidden inside a Big Mac box. The driver, Otis Sams, has sought to suppress the evidence, arguing that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court denied his motion.
Throughout the proceedings, the judges asked pointed questions of both the lawyer for Sams, Joel Wieneke, and Indiana Deputy Attorney General Lyubov Gore. The questions tended to revolve around two issues: first, whether Sams had the right to appeal since the truck did not belong to him, and then, whether the police had followed proper procedure when they opened what looked like a discarded McDonald’s bag yet did not inventory the tools found in the truck.
The judges did not specify when they would decide the case.
The January 24th hearing was one of about 2,100 cases the Court of Appeals will hear this year. The “Appeals on Wheels” program stops in locations as varied as independent living facilities, rotary clubs, and schools.
Judge Kirsch, a frequent visitor to Butler for basketball games and to walk the campus and along the canal, said he was pleased to bring the court to his alma mater. He recalled that when he was at Butler, the location of the January 24 trial was Christian Theological Seminary.
“I have great pride in this university,” he said.
Rusty Jones, Director of Butler’s Center for High Achievement and Scholarly Engagement, which arranged for the court’s visit to Butler, said he was “thrilled” with the event. Jones said that for Butler’s pre-law students, this “was most likely their first chance to ever witness something like that, so they have a better understanding of how the appellate system works.” For students in Kristin Swenson’s Rhetorical Theory class, “who were approaching the event from a totally different angle—the value and power of speech,” it gave them a chance to see the power of the spoken and written word.
“I thought the turnout was fantastic and, for the smaller meet-and-greet for the students who stuck around afterward, even better,” he said.
One of those who stuck around after was junior Sundeep Singh, a biology and political science double major. This was the third time he’d seen an appeals court hearing. The first was when he was a sophomore at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana.
Singh plans to go to law school after he graduates from Butler.
“That’s why I got involved in law,” he said about seeing “Appeals on Wheels” at his high school. “Because of that.”