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Can the Police Search and Arrest You for A Minor Misdemeanor (e.g. Marijuana Possession or a Traffic Offense) in Ohio?

police ohio arrest search misdemeanor marijuana

Can Police Arrest You for a Minor Misdemeanor Such As Marijuana Possession or a Traffic Offense?

In most circumstances, if you are pulled over for a traffic offense or minor misdemeanor in Ohio (including minor misdemeanor marijuana possession), the police cannot arrest you. 

By definition, a minor misdemeanor (including having less than 20g of marijuana under R.C. 2953.31) carries no jail time.  The worst punishment you can get is a $150 fine and (in the case of marijuana possession) a driver’s license suspension.   

Police can only arrest someone for a minor misdemeanor if one of the following applies (see R.C. 2935.26): 

(1) The offender requires medical care or is unable to provide for his own safety.

(2) The offender cannot or will not offer satisfactory evidence of his identity.

(3) The offender refuses to sign the citation.

(4) The offender has previously been issued a citation for the commission of that misdemeanor and has failed to do one of the following:

          (a) Appear at the time and place stated in the citation; or

          (b) Pay the ticket. 

An example of this statute in practice happened recently in State v. Adams, 2015-Ohio-5072.

In that case, an officer saw a car leave a house known for drug activity.   The officer pulled him over for having one working brake light – a minor misdemeanor under R.C. 4513.071(B).

The trooper noticed the smell of “raw” (i.e., unsmoked) marijuana emanating from the car.  He asked the driver to step out.  

When doing so, the driver admitted to having a small amount of marijuana in his pocket.  The trooper arrested the driver – he handcuffed him, and gave him his Miranda rights.  A subsequent search found cocaine in the driver’s pants pocket.

** The court found this arrest to be invalid because at this point, he had only been charged with minor misdemeanor marijuana possession and a minor misdemeanor brake light offense and none of the exceptions above applied.  Thus, all evidence of cocaine found after the illegal arrest was thrown out**

police ohio arrest search misdemeanor marijuana

Can Police Search You if You Are Charged with A Minor Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession or Traffic Offense?

In State v. Moore, 90 Ohio St.3d 47 (2000), the Supreme Court of Ohio found that if a police officer smells marijuana coming from a car following a traffic stop, the officer can search:

1. The passenger compartment of the car (not the trunk) – based on the “automobile” exception to the Fourth Amendment, and

2. The occupants – IF there is a chance the marijuana would be hidden or destroyed.

If – as in State v. Adams, 2015-Ohio-5072 – the driver or passenger freely admits to having marijuana upon being pulled over, there is no reason for a subsequent search of that driver or passenger (i.e. the exigent circumstances exception would not apply). 

In Adams, the trooper thoroughly searched the driver’s person after he stepped out of the car.  He found no weapons or any drugs (other than the small amount of marijuana that the driver already admitted to having).  He thought he felt a lump at one point, but it disappeared.  

He put the driver in the rear of his cruiser. Back up police arrived, and they tried to search the driver’s car. However, when tossing his keys onto the front seat, the driver’s key fob locked the doors.

The trooper patted the driver down again, looking for a second key, without finding one. During this second thorough search, he shook the driver’s pant legs.  A baggie with approximately 16 grams of cocaine fell out of his pants.


Here, no weapons were found at the first pat down.  The driver freely admitted to the trooper that he had marijuana on him.  A search for it was unnecessary.

At that point, no further reason existed to search him.  Thus, the second pat down during which the cocaine was discovered was invalid.

All evidence of cocaine found during the second pat down was thrown out. 

If you have been arrested or searched in conjunction with a marijuana charge in the Columbus area, talk to one of our Columbus marijuana attorneys about your case.  All initial consultations are free.