A recent case out of the 5th District in Ohio, State v. Ash, held that a driver’s violation of a traffic law, even if not witnessed by the officer pulling over the vehicle, gives the officer reasonable suspicion to stop the driver’s vehicle. The court held that the traffic stop is valid so long as the officer is relying on credible information from a fellow officer.
Pulled Over After Leaving Suspected Drug House
In State v. Ash, law enforcement was investigating a house based on several complaints of drug activity. An officer saw the defendant stop his vehicle outside the house, enter, and leave the house within a few minutes. The officer followed the defendant and testified that he observed the defendant fail to properly signal within 100 feet of a turn.
The officer was unable to follow the defendant and, therefore, radioed for another officer to pull over the defendant because of the traffic violation. This second officer claimed to smell marijuana and requested that the defendant provide his driver’s license. The defendant was then ordered out of his vehicle, searched, and handcuffed. The officer then searched the defendant’s vehicle and found marijuana in the center console.
Law Enforcement Must Have Reasonable Suspicion to Stop a Vehicle
For an investigative traffic stop to be lawful, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that the person stopped is, or is about to engage in, criminal activity. See United States v. Cortez and State v. Chatton. Pursuant to the famous case of Terry v. Ohio, law enforcement cannot simply rely on a “hunch.” The officer must be able to point to specific facts (e.g., speeding, marked lanes or other traffic violation) that led the officer to believe that criminal activity was about to occur or was being engaged in.
Officer Does Not Have to Witness the Violation Himself
Ohio courts have held that the arresting officer does not have to actually see the traffic violation himself for there to be reasonable suspicion. The officer can rely on a fellow officer’s statement to dispatch that he witnessed the violation. The one caveat is that the officer who reports the violation to dispatch must have witnessed the violation. See Maumee v. Weisner.
Thus, a police officer (not simply the arresting officer) must observe the violation. The state must then show that the facts as reported by the first officer was sufficient to create reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged in criminal activity.
Here, the first officer told the second officer that he witnessed the defendant commit a traffic violation. Based on this report, the second officer was permitted to rely on this information and pull over the driver. However, an officer relying on information from a fellow officer cannot use the tip to initiate a traffic stop if it lacks credibility.
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.
Johnson Legal, LLC serves the following cities in the central Ohio area for Criminal Defense:
Westerville, Worthington, Columbus, Polaris, Reynoldsburg, Grandview Heights, Shawnee Hills, Bexley, Pickerington, Gahanna, Sunbury, Powell, Upper Arlington, New Albany, Dublin, Hilliard, Lewis Center, Galena, Clintonville, Huber Ridge, Blacklick, Grove City, Delaware, Marysville, Groveport, Newark, Canal Winchester, Obetz, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Pataskala, Granville, Whitehall, Franklin County, Morrow County, Licking County, Union County and Delaware County