A home invader intended the question to mean drugs or money.

The Second District Appellate court meant it to mean the Good Faith Doctrine.

Although the affidavit contained minimal support for a conclusion that drugs also would likely be found in the residence, we cannot conclude that the officers’ reliance on the search warrant at issue merits application of the exclusionary rule.

State v. Ojezua

2020 – Ohio – 303

Second District Appellate Court

Montgomery County, Ohio

On Thursday October 8, 2015, at 8:00 a.m. Mr. Ralphael Ojezua, his girlfriend Ms. Nicole Morgan and her three-year-old son were at their home at 3688 Elderberry Avenue, in Harrison Township in Montgomery, County, Ohio.

Ms. Morgan and her son left the house as Mr. Ojezua was asleep on the couch inside the living room.  Two unidentified men met Ms. Morgan and her son outside the home and ordered them back in the home at gunpoint.  Once inside, Mr. Ojezua jumped up.  One of the armed men ordered Mr. Ojezua upstairs while the second armed man stayed in the living room with Ms. Morgan and her son.  Ms. Morgan heard the upstairs home invader yell at Mr. Ojezua “WHERE IS IT!?”  A moment later Ms. Morgan heard a gunshot and saw the home invader run down the stairs.  Both men ran out of the house.

Ms. Morgan ran upstairs to find Mr. Ojezua shot in both legs so she called 911 and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office responded.  Ms. Morgan met the deputies outside and directed them upstairs to Mr. Ojezua where they rendered aid until Harrison Township Fire Department arrived and transported him to the hospital.  The deputies radioed a description of the home invaders and began the investigation.

Deputy Chris Kidwell asked Ms. Morgan for consent to search the home for evidence of the shooting.  Ms. Morgan agreed and signed the Consent to Search form.  Ms. Morgan then stated she was going to leave but Deputy Kidwell asked that she remain at the house because she could revoke her consent at any time. Ms. Morgan immediately responded that she wanted to revoke her consent. As a result, no search was conducted – or even begun — based on consent. Deputy Kidwell estimated that the discussion with Morgan regarding consent occurred at approximately 8:30 a.m.

Deputy Kidwell told Ms. Morgan that they needed to exit the home; the deputies left, too, and secured the home. Deputy Kidwell testified that, when he left the house, he was not aware that drugs were present in the home. Deputy Kidwell remained on site, watching the home, while a detective secured a search warrant.

Detective Eric Dingee of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit (violent crimes), the lead investigator, arrived after Ms. Morgan revoked her consent to search the home. He spoke with Sgt. David Hutchinson, who directed him to get a search warrant. Det. Dingee testified that he needed a search warrant to search the home for evidence regarding the shooting. Deputy Kidwell testified that he relayed all of the information that he had obtained from speaking with Ms. Morgan and Mr. Ojezua to the detective who obtained the search warrant, which was signed at 10:40 a.m. The affidavit signed by the detective included the aforementioned facts of the shooting but at issue was this singular sentence “A records check of the Tiburon system, showed Raphael having previous arrest for possession of drugs.”.  This was the only reference to narcotics in the affidavit.

The deputies searched the home and inside the bedroom dresser discovered a digital scale, 5,000 grams of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and $31,562.00 in cash next to his socks.  Mr. Ojezua filed a Motion to Suppress which was denied.  He plead no contest and was sentenced to eleven years in prison, and fines totaling $17,500.00.  Thereupon he filed this appeal to the Second District Appellate court.  The focus of the appeal centered on the search warrant.  Mr. Ojezua argued that there was no connection to searching the home for evidence of the home invasion shooting and looking for narcotics in the bedroom drawers.  This argument was reasonable given that the affidavit had only one sentence referencing narcotics and it was about Mr. Ojezua’s prior convictions.  Essentially there was no probable cause listed in the affidavit to support a search for drugs.

After weighing these competing factors, the Second District Appellate Court relied on the Good Faith Doctrine held “Under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, the exclusionary rule should not be applied to bar the use of evidence obtained by police officers acting in objectively reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate, but ultimately found to be unsupported by probable cause. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 82 L.Ed.2d 677 (1984) … Although the affidavit contained minimal support for a conclusion that drugs also would likely be found in the residence, we cannot conclude that the officers’ reliance on the search warrant at issue merits application of the exclusionary rule.”.  Consequently, the court upheld Mr. Ojezua’s conviction and eleven-year sentence.

See Mr. Ojezua’s link to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Ojezua, 2020 – Ohio – 303 and a phone interview with Montgomery County Deputy Det. Eric Dingee on December 3, 2020.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Law enforcement officers’ experience with home invasions are congruent inasmuch as most involve the narcotics trade; Thursday October 8, 2015 on Elderberry Avenue was no different. When one of the home invaders yelled “WHERE IS IT?”; to law enforcement would mean only two items; drugs or money.  If it did mean money it would be drug money.   In this case the linkage from the incident and statement was only referenced in the search warrant.
  1. The search warrant, though light on narcotics information, was still grounded in probable cause to search for evidence of the felonious assault on Mr. Ojezua. It was this probable cause that was litigated in the appeal.  The Second District evaluated the legal analysis on the Good Faith Doctrine which was established in S. v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984).  The U.S. Supreme Court held in LeonWe conclude that the marginal or nonexistent benefits produced by suppressing evidence obtained in objectively reasonable reliance on a subsequently invalidated search warrant cannot justify the substantial costs of exclusion.”.  In the Ojezua case, the search warrant was not found to be defective.  In this case the detectives crafted a well written affidavit and the appellate court was correct in upholding Mr. Ojezua’s conviction.

Does your agency train on Search Warrants?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.