OFFICERS MUST HAVE PROBABLE CAUSE BEFORE THEY CAN ARREST A DRIVER FOR OVI
A woman was arrested in Columbus by Ohio State Highway Patrol on a charge of OVI. Her case was heard in the Franklin County Municipal Court. The central issue at the motion to suppress was whether there was probable cause to arrest her. She told the officer she wasn’t driving. So the question was whether there was probable cause for the officer to believe she was in fact driving despite her claim.
The trial court found that whether or not she was driving should be a question for the jury. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Reversing her OVI conviction, the Tenth District Court of Appeals found that the court should have instead made a determination for itself whether or not a reasonable officer would have had probable cause to believe she was in fact driving while impaired. State v. Brown, 2018-Ohio-1476.
The key distinction was reasonable suspicion (the standard to pull someone over) vs. probable cause (the standard used when arresting someone).
REASONABLE SUSPICION V. PROBABLE CAUSE
The Ohio Court of Appeals in Columbus has determined that even if an officer has suspicion to investigate a driver for operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs (OVI), the officer must show he had probable cause the driver was guilty of OVI before he may arrest the driver. State v. Brown, 2018-Ohio-1476. The case was an appeal from the Franklin County Municipal Court.
In Brown, an officer pulled along side a vehicle that did not have anyone in the driver seat of the vehicle. The officer noticed two people sitting in the back seat, and a third person, the Defendant, approaching the officer’s car. The Defendant was visibly upset and stated to the officer that she had not been driving the vehicle. The officer stated he did not believe the Defendant had not been driving, and asked her to perform field sobriety tests. Based on the officer’s observations of the scene, he determined the Defendant had been driving the vehicle and placed her under arrest for OVI based on his belief that she was impaired by alcohol when she had been driving.
The Defendant was placed under arrest, and filed a motion to suppress evidence. The trial court determined the officer had reasonable suspicion to arrest the Defendant and denied the motion. The Defendant plead no contest to the OVI and appealed her conviction based on the fact the trial court applied the wrong legal standard when ruling on her motion.
Typically, the Fourth Amendment protects against warrantless searches and seizures. That means an officer usually cannot arrest someone without a warrant. The Supreme Court has stated that there are a few exceptions to the ban on warrantless arrests. One exception is called an investigatory detention. In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the Supreme Court stated a police officer may stop or detain an individual to investigate for a crime if the officer “has reasonable suspicion, based on specific, articulable facts, that criminal activity is afoot.” State v. Jordan, 2004-Ohio-6085
Reasonable suspicion is a lower bar for police to clear in order to begin an investigation for criminal activity. Officers cannot rely on hunches to investigate, but only need to demonstrate a minimal amount of objective justification. State v. Jones, 70 Ohio App.3d 554, 556-57 (2d Dist.1990)
In Brown, even Defendant concedes the officer had reasonable suspicion to investigate her for a possible crime based on both the observations of a driverless car and Defendant’s statements during the investigation. However, Defendant maintains the officer lacked probable cause to arrest her for OVI.
For the arrest of Defendant to be legal, the officer must have probable cause to believe Defendant was guilty of OVI. “In determining whether a police officer has probable cause to arrest a suspect for OVI, a court considers whether, at the moment of arrest, the officer had information within the officer’s knowledge, or derived from a reasonably trustworthy source, of facts and circumstances sufficient to cause a prudent person to believe the suspect was driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both.” State v. Montelauro, 2011-Ohio-6568
The Court must look at all of the facts of the arrest, and must determine whether an average officer in the same situation would have also made the arrest. If a trial court makes a determination that the officer had grounds to arrest a driver based on reasonable suspicion the driver was guilty of OVI, the Court fails to apply the correct legal standard for arrests.
In Brown, the trial court applied the reasonable suspicion standard to the Defendant’s arrest. The Court of Appeals in Columbus held this was the incorrect legal standard to apply since the trial court was analyzing the Defendant’s arrest. The trial court should have ruled on whether an average officer in the same situation would have also arrested the Defendant.
The Court in Brown stated, “reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause not only in the sense that reasonable suspicion can be established with information that is different in quantity or content than that required to establish probable cause, but also in the sense that reasonable suspicion can arise from information that is less reliable than that required to show probable cause.” Citing Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330 (1990)
If you have any questions about whether there was probable cause to make an arrest for an OVI / DUI in Columbus, talk to our Columbus DUI defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.