Once the police officers saw the marijuana cigarette, they had probable cause to believe that the car contained contraband, and they were justified in conducting a warrantless search of the car under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.
State v. Jackson
2021 – Ohio – 517
First District Appellate Court
Hamilton County, Ohio
February 26, 2021
On March 19, 2019, Cincinnati police officers stopped Mr. Jackie Jackson’s car for a window-tint violation. Two officers approached the driver’s side of the vehicle. Mr. Jackson was the only occupant, and the driver’s side window was open. One of the officers asked Mr. Jackson to turn off his car so that he would not drive away. Mr. Jackson questioned the reason for the stop and protested that he would not drive away. The officer explained that Mr. Jackson was pulled over for a window-tint violation, and Mr. Jackson seemed surprised. The windows were never tested because none of the officers had a window-tint meter.
The officers asked Mr. Jackson for his identification. Mr. Jackson did not attempt to get his identification right away, but instead continued doing something with his cell phone. He later said that he was turning on his camera so he could record his interactions with the police. He also questioned why so many officers had responded to a window-tint violation.
The officer who first approached the car told Mr. Jackson that if he did not give them his identification, they would get him out of the car. The officer then opened Mr. Jackson’s door and demanded that he step out of the vehicle. When Mr. Jackson got out of the car, he had a can of Red Bull in his hand. The officer took it from him and set it on the windshield.
Another officer tugged at Mr. Jackson’s clothing from behind to move him to the rear of his car. The officers instructed Mr. Jackson to put his hands on his head, and they patted him down for weapons. They explained to him why it was important for him to produce his identification immediately when asked. Mr. Jackson produced his identification and explained that his insurance information was on his cell phone.
The officer who opened the driver’s side door did not close it after Mr. Jackson got out of the vehicle. He reached into the vehicle twice, first to remove the keys from the ignition, and second, to put the can of Red Bull into a cup holder. Nothing incriminating was visible at that time.
When the first officer walked away from the car, another officer approached the driver’s side of the car while the door was still open and began looking inside with a flashlight. The officer saw the marijuana cigarette sitting on the floor on the side of the driver’s seat. The discovery of the marijuana cigarette prompted a full search of the vehicle. Police found a bin full of clothing in the back seat. Inside the bin, the police found a handgun, and they also found small amounts of marijuana in the pockets of the clothing.
He was charged with having Weapons While Under a Disability O.R.C. § 2923.13(A)(2), one count of Carrying Concealed Weapons under O.R.C. § 2923.12(A)(2), and one count of Improperly Handling Firearms in a Motor Vehicle O.R.C. 2923.16(B). He filed a Motion to Suppress that was overruled by the trial court. Mr. Jackson pled no contest and was found guilty of both charges.
He filed an appeal on three grounds:
(1) The police did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop his vehicle.
The court refuted this claim as during the Motion to Suppress Mr. Jackson’s attorney stated in pertinent part “Mr. Jackson questioned why he was pulled over for the window tint, and it was interesting that there was a lot of conversation if anyone had a meter, whether it was probable cause. But I’m not questioning the stop. Officers are allowed to make, you know, reasonable mistakes.”. This statement negated his claim that the traffic stop was unreasonable.
(2) There was not reasonable suspicion or concern for officer safety to justify removing Jackson from his vehicle or searching his vehicle.
This claim was also refuted when the court held “In State v. Evans, 67 Ohio St.3d 405, 618 N.E.2d 162 (1993), the Ohio Supreme Court followed Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, (1977), and held that a police officer may order a motorist to get out of a car that has been properly stopped for a traffic violation, even without a suspicion of criminal activity… Once the police officers saw the marijuana cigarette, they had probable cause to believe that the car contained contraband, and they were justified in conducting a warrantless search of the car under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.”.
(3) The plain-view exception to the warrant requirement did not apply.
Finally, this claim was also refuted by the court “The thrust of Jackson’s argument is that the police were not lawfully in a place they were permitted to be because they had improperly ordered Jackson out of his car. But, that argument is incorrect since the police officer’s order to Jackson to get out of the car did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights. The video shows that the officer who found the marijuana cigarette just walked up to the car and looked in. The cigarette was plainly visible, and its incriminating nature was readily apparent.”.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Jackson, 2021 – Ohio – 517.
This case was issued by the First District Appellate Court and is binding in Hamilton County, Ohio.
- Law enforcement may order an occupant out of a motor vehicle during a lawful traffic stop. The U.S. Supreme Court established that law enforcement may order a driver out of a car in Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, (1977) and a passenger may be ordered out was established in Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997). However, in Ohio, law enforcement may not place someone in a cruiser if the reason is for the officer’s convenience. The Supreme Court of Ohio provided that limitation in State v. Lozada, 92 Ohio St.3d 74 (2001). For more on ordering occupants out of a lawfully stopped vehicle see Don’t Just Sit There!.
- Jackson made a feeble attempt at suppressing the first marijuana cigarette because he was a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. The challenge was based on an incorrect assessment and application of the Plain View Doctrine. Because the officers did not observe the marijuana cigarette the first or perhaps second time they looked in the car does not nullify the application of the Plain View Doctrine. For more information on the Plain View Doctrine see Can an Incomplete Search Warrant Create a New Legal Doctrine?.
- This traffic stop is very typical of how law enforcement interacts and discovers felonious contraband on a traffic stop. Law enforcement is not always going to see everything within the passenger compartment on first or second approach or look – see. However, the body camera may be able to record the contraband before the officer sees it himself. This may often occur when a supervisor, attorney, judge or public records requester is able to review the video under fluorescent lights in an office. When watching the video, the person may also have the benefit of reviewing the video in slow motion. All of these factors should be considered when reviewing video from any scene.
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