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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > January 2013 > State v. Gardner, Ohio Supreme Court, Dec. 6, 2012

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State v. Gardner, Ohio Supreme Court, Dec. 6, 2012

Question: Can a suspect’s outstanding arrest warrant justify a stop-and-frisk if the peace officer didn’t know about the warrant at the time of the stop?
Quick answer: No.

Facts: An undercover police officer was patrolling a high-crime area and ran the license plate of a car, finding that the owner, Richard Easter, had an outstanding arrest warrant. The officer surveilled the home to see if Easter was there. A little later, three men left in a car, and the officer believed Easter was the driver. He followed the car into a gas station and approached the vehicle. Easter admitted his identity, so the officer arrested him. The officer also noticed Damaad Gardner moving around in the front passenger seat of the car. The officer ordered Gardner to place his hands on the car’s dashboard and then ordered him out of the vehicle. The officer handcuffed Gardner and patted him down, finding crack cocaine. The officer didn’t know until later that Gardner had an outstanding warrant.
Why this case is important: The Ohio Supreme Court held that a person with an outstanding arrest warrant doesn’t forfeit all expectations of privacy. The trial court denied Gardner’s suppression motion based on the fact that Gardner had an outstanding warrant, but an arrest warrant doesn’t “cleanse” a seizure or search that otherwise would violate the Fourth Amendment. The ends do not justify the means if there is no other reason for stopping and searching a suspect. Here, the stop-and-frisk was not validated by Gardner’s outstanding warrant because the officer didn’t know about the warrant at the time of the stop.
The court didn’t decide the issue of whether the officer’s pat-down of Gardner was based on reasonable, articulable suspicion.
Keep in mind: A suspect’s outstanding arrest warrant doesn’t act like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for peace officers who otherwise are violating the Fourth Amendment. If you stop someone and want to pat him down, the stop-and-frisk should be based on reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. However, if you know the suspect has an outstanding warrant before you stop him, this will be enough to justify the stop-and-frisk under the Constitution.
Visit the Ohio Supreme Court website to view the entire opinion.