Indiana Supreme Court hears appeal at Merrillville High School
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent May 9, 2013 4:42PM
State of Indiana Deputy Attorney General Aaron Spolarich presents his argument before the Indiana Supreme Court for a case at the Merrillville High School Auditorium in Merrillville, Ind. Thursday May 9, 2013. The Lake County Bar Association hosted the ability for the public and press to hear the case of Phillip T. Billingsley v. State of Indiana. The Supreme Court, from left, are Justice Steven David, Justice Robert Rucker, Chief Justice Brent Dickson, Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Mark Massa. | Stephanie Dowell~Post-Tribune
Updated: June 11, 2013 6:16AM
MERRILLVILLE — Approximately 400 area students Thursday received an inside look at how the Indiana Supreme Court handles appeals as they watched five justices hear oral arguments at Merrillville High School.
The Lake County Bar Association hosted the Indiana Supreme Court Oral Argument Event, in which attorneys for the appellant and the state argued whether a Fort Wayne man’s constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested, and later convicted, of possession of marijuana.
“This was a really great opportunity for high school students. It gave them a good civics lesson on the way matters are decided in general on the Supreme Court level,” said Michael Jasaitis, president of the Lake County Bar Association.
He said area attorneys and members of the general public also attended.
“This is the first time in quite a while that the Supreme Court has come to the area,” Jasaitis said.
Chief Justice Brent Dickson, who grew up in Hobart, said in this case, Phillip T. Billingsley’s conviction was upheld by a divided Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision.
He said the justices will make their decision probably next week in Indianapolis.
A woman who identified herself and said she was a former victim of Billingsley called police and said Billingsley was sitting in an SUV in the parking lot of a building in a high-crime area with a gun.
The officer, who knew Billingsley through previous arrests, blocked Billingsley’s vehicle, drew his gun and told Billingsley to get out of the car. That is when he smelled marijuana and found almost 230 grams of the drug in the car.
Fort Wayne attorney Thomas Allen, a graduate of Merrillville High School, argued that the police officer didn’t verify any of the information before blocking Billingsley’s car and drawing his weapon, including the woman’s identity.
“I don’t think the caller was a concerned citizen,” Allen said.
He asked for a reversal of the Appeals Court’s decision so Billingsley could have a new trial without the marijuana in evidence.
Aaron Spolarich, attorney for the state, said the officer had plenty of information to indicate his actions were reasonable.
Students asked the justices how they cope with the fact that their decision may change someone’s life forever, how much time they spend researching other cases, how they decide which cases to hear and how they balance their rulings with U.S. Supreme Court rulings.