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Drug Charges Dismissed Where Driver Detained Beyond Time Required for Original Stop

Categories: Ohio Drug Laws

Under Ohio law, if a police officer’s reason for continuing to detain a driver is unrelated to the original reason for the stop, and when that continued detention is not based any articulable facts giving rise to a suspicion of some illegal activity, the search is an illegal seizure.

In State v. Love, 2015-Ohio-142, the driver was pulled over due to the passenger’s outstanding warrant. But the officer continued to ask questions and detain the driver beyond the time needed to effectuate the arrest.  As a result, all drugs found during a subsequent search were inadmissible.  Thus, the drug possession and drug paraphernalia charges were dismissed.

Driver Pulled Over & Detained Beyond Time Required for Original Stop

The detectives were surveilling a drug house.  They saw a car back out and recognized the driver and passenger.  The officers stopped the car to effectuate a warrant against the passenger for unpaid fines.  At the time of the stop, the driver had not committed any traffic offenses, was not observed being involved in any criminal activity, and the officer did not know what the driver was doing that day.

Upon stopping the car and arresting the passenger, the officer began questioning the driver about his relationship with the passenger and why they were hanging out.  The driver was asked to step out of the car.  The driver admitted he had a drug problem and that he let drug dealers use his car.

When asked if he had any drugs or weapons, the driver said “‘No[.] * * * You can check me and my vehicle.’”  The officer performed a pat-down and found cocaine.  The driver was arrested.

Motion to Suppress: Continued Detention After Traffic Stop Was Unlawful

The driver argues that he was impermissibly seized as there was no reasonable, articulable suspicion warranting the investigatory detention.

Here, the only reason for the stop was to arrest the passenger for unpaid fines.  The officers did not suspect the driver of any criminal behavior and had not observed any behavior giving rise to any suspicion of criminal activity.

Notwithstanding, upon stopping the car and arresting the passenger, the driver was asked why he was “‘hanging out’” with the passenger when “‘[y]ou know he is a drug dealer,’” while another officer listened.

Because there was no reason for the additional detention of the driver beyond the passenger’s arrest (the original reason for the stop), the court found that the driver was “impermissibly detained and questioned under circumstances where there was no reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity.”

A reasonable person would not have felt free to leave, and thus the driver was unlawfully seized while being questioned.

The Driver’s “Consent” to the Search Was Not Voluntary

The State further argued that even if the driver was unlawfully seized, he freely consented to the search of his car and his person.

However, “Once an individual has been unlawfully detained by law enforcement, for his or her consent to be considered an independent act of free will, the totality of the circumstances must clearly demonstrate that a reasonable person would believe that he or she had the freedom to refuse to answer further questions and could in fact leave.”

In other words, the driver thought be had no other choice to consent once he was seized by officers.  Being stopped by the police on the side of the road involves a substantial show of authority by police and can create “substantial anxiety” in a driver.  Thus, his “consent” to the search wasn’t voluntary.