[W]e find that the vehicle stop in this case was supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion.
State v. Hinkston
2020 – Ohio – 6903
Clermont County, Ohio
December 28, 2020
On Monday June 10, 2019 at 11:30 p.m. Williamsburg, Ohio Police Officer Corey Herren was conducting surveillance on a known drug house located at 3924 State Route 133, Williamsburg, Ohio.
This was an active drug house located at 3924 State Route 133, Williamsburg, Ohio and was under surveillance by Officer Corey Herren. The events that followed were no miracle for Mr. Damon Hinkston.
Officer Herren testified that he had nineteen years of law enforcement experience and the drug house had at least seventy other traffic stops of drug purchasers who had left the house, stopped and charged with possession of drugs. He described the drug house as a ‘candy store’ because the homeowner, Mr. Richard ‘Buddy’ Deller, sold different types of narcotics including methamphetamine and heroin.
The drug house previously had controlled buys completed by a drug unit which led to a search warrant and a federal indictment on the owner of the house. On this night Officer Herren observed a white Ford Escape pull into the driveway. The Ford Escape was not from the area and when Herren ran the registration, he discovered that the vehicle was registered to a deceased male. A male and female exited the vehicle and entered the house. Shortly after, the pair came out of the house, got into the vehicle and left. Officer Herren testified that based on his training and experience, the behavior was suspicious because of the history of the house, the fact that the car was from out of the area, and the actions of the vehicle occupants.
Officer Herren followed the vehicle and noticed “a lot of activity” in the vehicle. He described the activity as the male passenger “moving around quite a bit,” moving side to side, and the passenger appeared to be trying to hide something. Officer Herren activated his lights and siren and stopped the vehicle. The basis for the stop was reasonable suspicion to believe the occupants of the vehicle had just purchased drugs inside the drug house. To add to the reasonable suspicion, the owner of the car was deceased and the movement within the vehicle while Officer Herren was following. The amount of reasonable suspicion in this moment would be at question in this case.
Officer Herren conducted a traffic stop and noticed the female driver, later identified as Ms. Sapphire Miracle, appeared “quite a bit” more nervous than typical for a traffic stop and the male passenger, later identified as Mr. Damon Hinkston, would not make eye contact. Ms. Miracle, trying to create one, initially gave Officer Herren her twin sister’s identification and the officer was suspicious because the identification did not match. Officer Herren was familiar with Ms. Miracle. She is a fraternal twin but still made a feeble attempt to disguise her identity by giving the officer her felon-free sister’s identification. Officer Herren then asked for a Social Security number which Ms. Miracle provided him. As Officer Herren was verifying Ms. Miracle’s identification, other officers arrived, and these officers took over the traffic stop duties while Officer Herren received consent to run his drug dog, Bragi, around the vehicle. The canine indicated a positive response on the front driver and passenger doors. Ms. Miracle and Mr. Hinkston were removed from the vehicle and the vehicle was searched.
A Taurus .38 caliber handgun was discovered in the back seat, behind, but within reach of the passenger’s seat with the butt of the handgun sticking out. Officers discovered baggies in the center console of the vehicle which contained residual drugs inside. Officers also discovered a black ‘felony’ bag that contained several items, including a needle cap, five rounds of ammunition of the same caliber as the firearm, and a key that belonged to Mr. Hinkston’s mother.
Officers determined that Ms. Miracle had no miracle because she had a suspended driver’s license. Officers also discovered that there was a request for Mr. Hinkston to be detained for investigation of a burglary offense. Mr. Hinkston was arrested for Carrying a Concealed Weapon and Weapons Under Disability. During booking procedures at the jail, fentanyl was discovered in Mr. Hinkston’s wallet.
Mr. Hinkston was charged with possession of a fentanyl compound and with having a weapon while under a disability. He filed a Motion to Suppress and the trial court granted the motion determining that Officer Herren lacked reasonable articulable suspicion and suppressed all of the evidence. The State of Ohio appealed and the Twelfth District Appellate Court overturned the trial court holding “[W]e find that the vehicle stop in this case was supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion.”.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Hinkston, 2020 – Ohio – 6903 and a phone interview of Officer Herren on April 3, 2021.
This case was issued by the Twelfth District Appellate Court of Appeals and is binding in the following counties; Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Preble and Warren.
- The Twelfth District Appellate Court began the analysis of this case by stating “[T]he concept of reasonable and articulable suspicion has not been precisely defined.”. This statement IN AND OF ITSELF is at the heart of why law enforcement is THE Hardest Job in America! Courts nationwide, to include the U.S. Supreme Court, have not been able to define Reasonable Suspicion. Yet, each day, law enforcement must make that determination without a judge or attorney shouting out instructions. In the original case creating the Reasonable Suspicion doctrine, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) the court held “[T]here is no ready test for determining reasonableness other than by balancing the need to search or seize against the invasion which the search or seizure entails. And in justifying the particular intrusion the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”. [emphasis added] Id at 21. See also Objectively Reasonable Launches. Without a standard from which to begin an analysis of reasonable suspicion, Officer Herren had to make a rapid decision whether or not there was enough reasonable suspicion to stop the car. He reasonably believed that there was enough Reasonable Suspicion, and the Twelfth District Appellate Court agreed. So yes, Officer Herren was precise enough!
- When law enforcement conducts surveillance on drug houses what is critically important is the rhythm of the drug sales. Drug houses are not open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Drug houses are ONLY open when they have product to sell. That could be for a lot of hours during the day but at some point, the drug salesman must be re-supplied. Officers should always articulate why the drug house is active right now. Perhaps a porch light is only on when the drug house has product. Or after a ‘red Monte Carlo’ arrives and leaves, a lot of pedestrians and vehicles make short visits to the house. Whatever makes the drug house ‘active’, it should be articulated. This articulation will support subsequent investigative detentions and underscore the credibility of law enforcement.
- In this case Officer Herren and the trial judge disagreed on the doctrine of Reasonable Suspicion. However, three appellate court judges agreed with the officer. Officer Herren should be commended for recognizing that the drug house was active and the typical behaviors of drug purchasers. One area of improvement – when a suspect is placed under arrest the search incident to arrest should be complete. This would include a thorough search of purses and wallets. In this case, Recidivist Damon Hinkston secreted his recently purchased Fetanyl in his wallet which was not discovered until he was taken to jail.
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!