In a recent case from the 7th District Court of Appeals, State v. White, a man was pulled over for failing to use a turn signal. Upon approaching the man’s vehicle, the police allegedly observed a baggie containing a white substance on the bottom door frame near the driver’s seat. However, this contention was later changed to be that the officer saw the man reach down to the floor of the vehicle.
The officer ordered the man out of his vehicle, handcuffed him, and patted him down for weapons. The officer asked the man about the white substance, which the man stated was “cut” used to increase the volume of a drug. It was tested and was negative for narcotics. However, the officer smelled the odor of marijuana and searched the man’s vehicle.
Another officer arrived on scene and, after placing the man in handcuffs, but prior to placing the man in the officer’s cruiser, asked the man if there was anything illegal on him. The man informed the officer that he had heroin in his shoe. At no time was the man ever advised of his Miranda rights.
Prior to discovering the heroin, but after placing the man under arrest, the first officer called dispatch regarding the man’s driver’s license. The officer was informed that the license was under suspension. However, the officer did not inquire as to whether the driving under suspension offense was an arrestable offense (most are not). This was the officer’s justification for arresting the man prior to discovering the heroin in the man’s shoe.
Upon returning to the police station and examining the LEADS (Law Enforcement Automated Data System) report, the officer discovered that the man’s driving under suspension was not an arrestable offense pursuant to R.C. 4510.21, which is an unclassified misdemeanor. The man was also cited for failure to use a turn signal under R.C. 4511.39, a minor misdemeanor, and possession of marijuana pursuant to R.C. 2925.11(C)(3), also a minor misdemeanor. None of the offenses are arrestable offenses. The man was later indicted for possession of heroin, a fifth degree felony under R.C. 2925.11(A).
Probable Cause to Arrest and Search Incident to Arrest
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the right of people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government. A valid search must be supported by a warrant or based on a recognized exception to the warrant requirement.
Police may conduct a warrantless search incident to a proper arrest. In such a search, police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle when they are arresting the occupant of that vehicle only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee may access the vehicle at the time of the search or that it contains evidence of the offense constituting the arrest. Furthermore, law enforcement may conduct a search of the person placed under arrest for items such as weapons.
Here, the trial court, inexplicably, held that when the officer learned that the man was driving with a suspended license, the officer had probable cause to arrest for driving under suspension (not for possession of heroin). Since probable cause to arrest existed, the man would have been searched incident to arrest, and the heroin would have been discovered.
The man was arrested for a violation of R.C. 4510.16, which was later amended to R.C. 4510.21, failure to reinstate. This occurred more than three years after the man’s last conviction for driving under suspension and, therefore, neither of the offenses were arrestable offenses. Thus, the arrest was improper.
Since the man was improperly arrested, there was not a valid search incident to arrest. However, the prosecution argued that the officer had reasonable cause to believe that the man could be placed under arrest for driving under suspension. Moreover, the officer could not obtain additional information regarding the man’s driving under suspension charge until the officer transported the man back to the station and personally reviewed the LEADS report.
During a suppression hearing, the officer readily admitted that most driving under suspension offenses do not require an arrest. Moreover, both the first and second officer admitted that neither had given Miranda warnings prior to placing the man in handcuffs. The questioning by the officer was the only thing that led to the discovery of heroin in the man’s shoe.
Waiver of Miranda Rights and Exclusionary Rule
A person’s waiver of his right against self-incrimination must be made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. A person cannot be deemed to have waived his right to silence unless the authorities have first informed him of that right. This is a “threshold requirement for an intelligent decision as to its exercise.” See Miranda v. Arizona.
In this case, it was not disputed that the man was never informed of his right against self-incrimination. Yet the officers proceeded to interrogate the man, which was the only reason the heroin was discovered in his shoe. Absent the interrogation, the heroin in the man’s shoe would not have been discovered. Furthermore, it would not have been inevitably discovered as part of a lawful arrest because the arrest itself was not lawful. Therefore, the doctrine of inevitably discovery does not apply and the exclusionary rule must apply.
The Appellate Court found that arrest of the man “very troubling” as it was clear that law enforcement had no justification for the arrest. At most, the officers could detain the man pending further investigation into the nature of the driving under suspension violation. This would have permitted the initial pat-down for weapons.
However, since the officers did not have probable cause to arrest or search the man’s vehicle absent a warrant, and the man was not properly informed of his Miranda rights after being arrested, the interrogation was unlawful and the man’s admission to having heroin in his shoe was the fruit of an illegal search. Therefore, the trial court’s ruling was overturned and the conviction was vacated.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Johnson Legal, LLC and speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorney David Johnson of Johnson Legal, LLC will discuss your case and assist you in fighting the charges. Call (614) 987-0192 or send an email to schedule a consultation regarding your criminal offense case.
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