Solomon Wheeler Carried Enough Meth to be Indicted for Trafficking but would the Meth be Admissible?
The discovery of methamphetamine in the black pouch during the lawful pat down would justify placing appellant under arrest. He would have been searched incident to a lawful arrest, and the additional methamphetamine in his pants pocket would have been discovered.
State v. Wheeler
2020 – Ohio – 6720
Fifth District Appellate Court
December 15, 2020
On Monday September 9, 2019 Newark Police Officer Amanda Angles observed a vehicle driven by Mr. Solomon Wheeler run a stop sign on Woods Avenue at West Shields Street. She conducted a traffic stop on Woods Avenue at Fairfield Avenue, and determined that Mr. Wheeler had a suspended license. This would not be his only criminal violation of the day.
Officer Amanda Angles stopped Mr. Wheeler on Woods Avenue at Fairfield Avenue. He lied about carrying a knife but was honest about his possession of methamphetamine.
A passenger also had a suspended license. Officer Benjamin Sholl arrived. Mr. Wheeler would not maintain eye contact, he was nervous and sweating. Officer Sholl removed Mr. Wheeler from the vehicle and observed a “large fixed blade knife on his belt loop.” When asked if he had any other weapons, Mr. Wheeler said no. Officer Sholl then conducted a pat down and discovered a second knife in appellant’s left front pocket. Officer Sholl worked his way to the right side of appellant’s body and observed a black pouch on Mr. Wheeler’s belt loop. Concerned it could hold weapons such as razor blades, Officer Sholl asked Mr. Wheeler about the pouch. Mr. Wheeler stated it was a cell phone pouch and when asked what was in it, he replied “Meth” as in methamphetamine. So Solomon lied about carrying a knife but was plum honest about his possession of methamphetamine – perhaps this is ‘Wheeler Wisdom’? At that time, Officer Sholl placed Mr. Wheeler in handcuffs. When asked if he had anything else on him, Mr. Wheeler advised he had a small baggy in his pants pocket which appeared to contain methamphetamine.
Mr. Wheeler was indicted for one count of possession of drugs (methamphetamine) in violation of O.R.C. § 2925.11 and one count of trafficking (methamphetamine) in violation of O.R.C. § 2925.03. He filed a Motion to Suppress claiming an illegal search and seizure of the vehicle and his person. The trial court denied his motion, he plead no contest and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Mr. Wheeler filed an appeal claiming that when Officer Sholl questioned him about additional weapons and what was in the pouch on his belt, he was in custody and therefore the statements were made without a Miranda warning. Therefore, the statements and methamphetamine should be suppressed. The Fifth District Appellate Court disagreed and held “The discovery of methamphetamine in the black pouch during the lawful pat down would justify placing appellant under arrest. He would have been searched incident to a lawful arrest, and the additional methamphetamine in his pants pocket would have been discovered.”. Mr. Wheeler was only being detained at the time he admitted to having methamphetamine in his belt pouch and therefore did not require a Miranda warning.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Wheeler, 2020 – Ohio – 6720 and a phone interview with Officer Benjamin Sholl on April 11, 2021. Interestingly, this case was issued on December 15, 2020 which was the 229th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, which included the Fourth Amendment. Here the analysis, like many law enforcement cases, was based on the Fourth Amendment.
This case was issued by the Fifth District Appellate Court and is binding on the following Ohio counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas.
- Wheeler provided Officer Sholl probable cause to arrest him once he admitted to possessing methamphetamine. At that moment, at any moment in which law enforcement establishes probable cause, most of the time it is best to tell the suspect he is under arrest. There are times when not telling a suspect he is under arrest is better, based on officer safety, continuing the investigation or similar circumstances. But in most street encounters, as it was here, telling the suspect he is under arrest at the moment probable cause is established is the best course of action. This provides law enforcement with the Search Incident to Arrest doctrine and can often facilitate successful prosecution and inhibit successful appeals. For more information on telling a suspect he is under arrest, see Obesity, Arthritis and ‘At Least’ Five Beers Lead to an Arrest and Appeal.
- Officer Sholl should be commended for his explanation as to why he wanted to pat down the pouch. If he had said that the pouch ‘could’ contain narcotics then the pat down would be have been unlawful. But if the pouch ‘could’ contain a weapon the pat down would be reasonable. Officer Sholl would have had the same physical action – a pat down, but legally these two are very different. A pat down can only be lawful if the frisk is for weapons. Otherwise if the pat down/frisk discovers non-threatening contraband the officer will have entered the Plain Feel Doctrine, which is a legal trap for the officer. For more information see What Do Breast Implants and the Plain Feel Doctrine have in common?
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!