Did officers illegally expand the scope and duration of an original traffic stop when they asked a suspect to talk with them without first advising him that he could refuse.
Yes, once the reason for the traffic stop ended, officers detained the suspect illegally, thereby tainting his ability to consent.
Peace officers received an e-mail tip concerning possible drug activity at James Rogers’ residence. Officers learned that Rogers had prior convictions for drug possession and trafficking. While officers were unsuccessfully attempting a knock and talk at Rogers’ home, they saw a car with dark tinted windows approach. Officers stopped the vehicle, and Rogers exited from the passenger side. The officers ordered Rogers back into the car. After finding that there were no outstanding warrants or license violations for either occupant, the officers issued a verbal warning for the window tint and told the driver she was free to leave. But the officers then asked Rogers if he would step out of the vehicle and speak with them. He did, and the officers explained why they were there and asked Rogers for permission to search his apartment. Rogers agreed and signed a consent form. The officers seized two weapons from Rogers’ home and arrested him.
Why this case is important:
This case shows how complex search-and-seizure law can be. Here, although the officers explained why they wanted to talk to Rogers and had him sign a consent form before they searched his house, the court found that the detention was unconstitutional from the moment they asked Rogers to exit the car. Because Rogers was unlawfully detained, his consent to search was not voluntary, and therefore the entire case was thrown out.
Under the Fourth Amendment, this result is wrong. Under Ohio law, once a traffic stop is concluded, it is unlawful to detain a person further to ask to search a vehicle unless there is specific evidence of other wrongdoing.
Here, the court concluded that the officers did not have a reasonable basis to continue to detain Rogers, and therefore it was incumbent upon the officer to ensure that Rogers knew he was free to leave and did not have to answer any questions. The court did not believe that happened here, and therefore suppressed the evidence.
Keep in mind:
It isn’t clear from this opinion why the court didn’t consider the original e-mail tip to be a reasonable basis to detain Rogers (the tip came from an employee of the Dayton Metropolitan Housing Authority, and mentioned possible drug activity at Rogers’ DMHA residence). However, once the detention becomes unlawful, it is the state’s burden to prove than any subsequent consent it voluntarily given. The easiest way to do this is either to give a Miranda
warning or to simply tell the suspect that he doesn’t have to answer any questions and is free to walk away if he wants to.
Visit the Second District Court of Appeals
website to read the entire opinion.