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Drug Possession and Firearm Case Thrown Out Where Police Illegally Detained Defendant on a “Hunch”

The Franklin County Court of Appeals threw out a conviction for possession of drugs when it found that police officers illegally detained someone and later arrested him when the officers found drugs in the vehicle. State v. Carter, 2020-Ohio-589

The Court issued a ruling stating that the police detained the Defendant on a hunch of criminal activity, and a hunch alone is not sufficient to detain someone for an investigation. All of the charges were thrown out.


Columbus Police were patrolling Cooper Park in Columbus at night.  Defendant was parked with the engine and lights off.  Despite the fact that the car was legally situated and that Cooper Park did not close to the public until 11 p.m., the officer testified that he found the automobile’s presence suspicious.

Police ran the car’s plates and found a “possible warrant” for the car’s owner.  When they ran his plates, they were parked just feet from Defendant’s car. Officer said they were not running lights or siren. Defendant said he was blocked in and couldn’t move.

Defendant locked himself in the car and refused to get out. Officers noticed a gun holster retention clip on Defendant’s belt. After calling for and receiving backup, the officers broke Carter’s car window and forcibly removed him and arrested him. They ultimately recovered a gun and a small amount of cocaine from a search of the car.  It turned out the “possible warrant” in the system was likely invalid.

Nonetheless, he was charged with improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle, carrying a concealed weapon, and a fifth degree felony count for possession of less than five grams of cocaine with a firearm specification.


Throughout the years, the United States Supreme Court has identified three different types of interactions with police officers. The encounters vary based on the interactions with the police:

  • A consensual encounter exists when someone freely engages with conversations with police officers.
  • A brief investigative stop occurs when an officer detains someone for the officer’s investigation. An officer must have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has happened or about to happen.
  • A full-scale arrest by officers must be supported by probable cause that a criminal act has taken place.


 In the Carter case, officers claimed to have a reasonable suspicion to detain the Defendant. The Defendant argued that the officers were only relying on a hunch that criminal activity was happening.

The Court of Appeals sided with the Defendant. The Defendant was parked legally in a park that was still open, and there were no other obvious signs the Defendant was doing anything illegal.


The police argued that the Defendant was actually free to leave at any time, and not detained during the officer’s investigation. But video evidence showed the officers parked their cruiser directly behind the Defendant’s vehicle, and if the Defendant had tried to leave, he would have hit the officer’s cruiser or driven over the curb to leave the park.

When determining if someone is free to leave their interaction with a police officer, the courts will, “view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, and decide if a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980)

The Court asked whether a reasonable person in the Defendant’s position would determine the positioning of the police cruiser as a show of authority indicating that the officer did not want the person to leave?  The Court ruled that a reasonable person would not have felt free to leave and threw out the Defendant’s case.

It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you including whether police had a valid reason to detain you. If you have questions about your Columbus criminal or OVI related charges, talk to our defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.