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Grandview Heights Drug Case Thrown Out for Unconstitutional Stop

In a recent case out of Grandview Heights, the Ohio Court of Appeals held that asking for identification from someone on the street is not a seizure. The police don’t need to have reasonable suspicion or anything more than a hunch in order to ask someone for their ID.

But when, as the Grandview police did here, the police ask for identification, then take the ID back to the cruiser and run a warrants check, constitional rights are implicated. If the police do a warrants check on nothing more than a hunch, the stop is unconstitutional and any drugs or other illegal discoveries after that are inadmissible in court.  State v. Westover, 2014-Ohio-1959.

The Facts

 A Grandview Heights police officer was on routine patrol in the area of Broadview Ave and W. 3rd Avenue. She was in a marked police cruiser and wore her police uniform.

She noticed 3-4 people standing outside of a car which was legally parked on the street.  She testified that the group “seemed nervous” as she drove by and that the trunk was open. Additionally, she saw someone take something from the trunk of the car up to a house known for drug activity.

She approached the group and asked what they were doing. They explained that “they were waiting for somebody to come” out of the house. The officer then observed a box being taken into the house. When asked, the group said it was a tool box.

The officer then asked everyone for identification in order to “find out, you know, who’s there.”  There is no evidence that she told the group she was planning to run a warrant check. Nonetheless, she took everyone’s identification back to her police cruiser and ran a check for outstanding warrants on all the people present.

As one officer was checking the warrants, the other officers stood on the sidewalk with the group.   One officer was having a discussion with the defendant, noting that the officer knew the defendant from high school.

The defendant was arrested for an outstanding warrant. Upon arrest, the officers discovered heroin on the defendant’s person.


Was the Seizure Constitutional Under the Fourth Amendment?

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the drug evidence was obtained while he was unconstitutionally detained.

A “seizure” occurs only “when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.”

Here, the officer’s initial interaction with defendant was consensual:

  • The whole encounter occurred outside, on a public sidewalk.
  • The officer did not activate her overhead lights
  • She asked for identification, but that doesn’t alone make the encounter not consensual.

However, the encounter became a seizure when the officer:

  • Kept the defendant’s ID and took it to the cruiser to run a warrants check.
  • Called for backup and several other officers arrived on the scene.

By keeping the license to check for outstanding warrants, the officers had “implicitly commanded defendant to remain on the scene since,” abandoning one’s “driver’s license and driv[ing] away is not a realistic option for a reasonable person in today’s society.”  This is true even if the defendant is a passenger not driving, is just a passenger or is simply a pedestrian.

Because the officer had nothing more than a “hunch” that criminal activity was going on, the stop was unconstitutional.

If you or a friend have been arrested and would like to investigate whether the police stop was unconstitutional, consider speaking with one of our Columbus criminal defense attorneys. Call, text or email – 614-361-2804.