POLICE CANNOT DETAIN DRIVER PAST THE TIME TO ISSUE A TRAFFIC TICKET UNLESS THERE IS REASONABLE SUSPICION OF OTHER CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

The Ohio Court of Appeals recently held that when an officer stops a driver for a traffic violation, but finds no other evidence of further illegal activity, then the officer may not stop the driver for longer than is necessary to complete the stop for the traffic violation. The Court further held that if a driver gives consent to search their car or home, but the consent was obtained through the illegal traffic stop, then any evidence of further crimes cannot be used against a driver. State v. Lewis, 2018-Ohio-3681.

Driver Pulled Over For Turn Signal, Police Found Nothing in Search of Car, Convinced Driver to Allow Search of His House, Police Found Marijuana

In Lewis, Defendant was pulled over for a turn signal violation. Defendant was a person of interest in a suspected drug operation and police wanted an opportunity to question Defendant about drug activity. Police asked Defendant about drug activity and Defendant consented to a search of his car. Police found no evidence of illegal activity after the search, but continued to detain the Defendant.

Twenty-one minutes into the stop, the officer told Defendant that if that if he didn’t consent to a search of his home, he would have take him to the police department while he got a warrant.

Defendant was worried about his dogs getting hurt and didn’t want his wife to experience officers showing up unannounced while he wasn’t home as she had health concerns that could be exacerbated by stress.

Based on these concerns, he consented to the search and led officers to his home. By this time roughly 90 minutes had elapsed since he was stopped for the traffic violation.  At his home, officer found marijuana and firearms. He was arrested and filed in court a motion to suppress.

In Ohio, Police Can Only Detain a Driver Past Writing a Ticket If There is Reasonable Suspicion as to Other Illegal Activity

Courts in Ohio have held that an officer may extend the length of a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to finish writing a ticket or issuing a warning if there is a “reasonable and articulable” suspicion that illegal activity was taking place beyond the original reason for pulling a driver over. State v. Batchili, 2007-Ohio-2204.

Officers must base their decision to extend the stop based on all the facts and observations obtained during the traffic stop. Id. If an officer completed these tasks within a reasonable length of time, the court will look at the duration of the stop and determine if the officer extended the stop for an unreasonable amount of time. State v. Carlson (1995), 102 Ohio App.3d 585.

Evidence Found During Illegal Search of Home Should Be Excluded; Charges Dismissed

In Lewis, police did not even talk to Defendant about the turn signal violation. Rather, they immediately began to discuss illegal activity related to drugs, and continued to detain Defendant in his vehicle despite a search of the car finding no evidence of illegal activities.

The Court found that nothing observed by any of the officers would warrant detaining Defendant beyond the initial search of his vehicle. The Court said, “The officer’s detention beyond the vehicle search was not based on any articulable facts giving rise to a suspicion of some illegal activity justifying an extension of the detention, and thus was an illegal seizure.” In other words, because there was no marijuana or other illegal items in the car, the officers should have let him go at that point. 

Defendant’s “Consent” to Search His House Was Involuntary Because It Stemmed from Illegal Police Detention After the Traffic Stop

 When a driver gives consent to search his car or home, but the consent flows from illegal police action, then evidence from that search cannot be used against the driver in court. State v. LaPrairie, 2nd Dist. 2011-Ohio-2184.

The Court in Lewis concluded Defendant’s consent to search his home was involuntary. Defendant was illegally detained following the search of his vehicle.  The Court stated, “because he was not released following the search of his vehicle, any evidence later seized with alleged consent was a result of an exploitation of that illegality.” 

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