DOES A POLICE OFFICER HAVE AUTHORITY TO CONTINUE A TRAFFIC STOP TO SEARCH FOR DRUGS OR OTHER CONTRABAND?
The Eleventh District Court of Appeals has held that although a police officer may have a suspicion of illegal activity following a traffic stop, the police officer does not have ‘open season’ to investigate matters not reasonably within the scope of his or her suspicion.
TRAFFIC STOPS UNDER FOURTH AMENDMENT
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures in their homes and vehicles. When the Fourth Amendment is applied to traffic stops, a police officer can stop a vehicle based on probable cause that a traffic violation has occurred or was occurring, and the stop is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. ” Dayton v. Erickson, 76 Ohio St.3d 3, syllabus (1996)
In State v. Carver, 2016-Ohio-4926, an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper observed a vehicle traveling over the speed limit. The trooper initiated a traffic stop, and noticed the occupants of the car, including the Defendant, were acting nervously.
The trooper did not detect a smell of alcohol or marijuana, nor did he notice any contraband in sight. Nevertheless, the trooper continued to detain the Defendant, and asked the Defendant if he could search his vehicle. The Defendant consented and the trooper found illegal drugs. The Defendant was charged with drug possession.
DETENTION AFTER A TRAFFIC STOP
“Once a motor vehicle has been lawfully detained for a traffic violation, the police officers may order the driver to get out of the vehicle without violating the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures.” State v. Henderson, 11th Dist. Lake No. 2006-L-110, 2007-Ohio-2315, citing State v. Wojtaszek, 11th Dist. Lake No. 2002-L-016, 2003-Ohio-2105
However, after the trooper failed to detect any illegal activity, the trooper should have issued the Defendant a citation for speeding or told the Defendant he was free to go. Instead, the trooper elected to continue the detention “even though there was no ongoing criminal activity that the trooper could observe.” State v. Carver, 2016-Ohio-4926
VIOLATION OF FOURTH AMENDEMENT DESPITE CONSENT
The court in Carver found the Defendant could not perceive that he was free to go after the trooper continued to detain him and continued his questioning of the Defendant. Although the Defendant told the trooper to go ahead and search his vehicle, the consent to search was already tainted by the lack of specific facts or a reasonable suspicion of any ongoing criminal activity. The Defendant’s consent was not effective to legitimize the illegal stop. “Valid consent cannot be given following an illegal detention to which it is strongly connected, and that evidence uncovered as a result of such a search must be thrown out.” State v. Pinder, 2d Dist. Miami No. 93 CA 6, 1993 Ohio App. LEXIS 5972, (Dec. 15, 1993).
RESPONSIBILITY OF POLICE OFFICER REGARDING TRAFFIC STOPS
The Court in Carver concluded, “The mere fact that a police officer has an articulable and reasonable suspicion sufficient to stop a motor vehicle does not give that police officer ‘open season’ to investigate matters not reasonably within the scope of his suspicion.” State v. Carver, 2016-Ohio-4926 citing State v. Retherford, 93 Ohio App.3d 586, 600 (2nd Dist.1994)
If you have been detained beyond the scope of a traffic stop and have questions about your case, talk to one of our Columbus defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.
Written by Anthony M. Iori, Associate Attorney at Riddell Law LLC