COA: Officer’s Failure To Take Oath Doesn’t Nullify Charges


Dave Stafford for

A northern Indiana police officer’s stop and subsequent arrest of an impaired driver was valid even though the policeman had not taken his oath of office, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Eberaia Fields was pulled over by Warsaw Police Department officer Miles Reichard on a license-plate light infraction. But because of the stop, he later was charged with Level 6 felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated, two counts of Level 6 felony intimidation, and Class C misdemeanor violation of special-driving privileges. Authorities also charged Fields also as a habitual vehicular substance offender.

Fields filed a motion to dismiss the charges after learning Reichard had not been sworn as an officer at the time of the traffic stop. Fields’ motion was denied in the Kosciusko Superior court, prompting this interlocutory appeal in which the COA affirmed the trial court, citing the de facto officer doctrine. The panel found Fields claimed the office of a Warsaw policeman when he accepted the job and began working for the department.

“We find that Officer Reichard’s failure to take the oath is a technical defect in his title to office. But because the record shows that Officer Reichard claimed the office, was in possession of it, and performed its duties under the color of appointment, we conclude that he was acting as a de facto officer at the time of the stop.  We therefore affirm the trial court’s denial of Fields’s motion to dismiss the charges against him,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel in Eberaia Fields v. State of Indiana, 43A03-1704-CR-856.

“To conclude otherwise and to dismiss the charges against Fields would run counter to the very purpose of the de facto officer doctrine, which is to insure the orderly functioning of the government despite technical defects in title to office,” Vaidik wrote.