[W]e find that Williams gave her consent to search her vehicle and that such consent applied to the purse she left in the front seat. As such, the trial court erred in granting Williams’ motion to suppress and the state’s single assignment of error is sustained.
State v. Williams
2021 – Ohio – 3704
Twelfth District Appellate Court
Clinton County, Ohio
October 18, 2021
Wilmington Police Officer Homer Wisecup was on duty in a marked cruiser when he observed a female driving her vehicle on a street in Wilmington, Ohio. Officer Wisecup recognized the driver as Ms. Patricia Williams from prior encounters with her, and learned through police dispatch that Ms. Williams had a suspended driver’s license. Officer Wisecup conducted a traffic stop, and Ms. Williams acknowledged that she was aware of her license suspension.
Officer Wisecup stopped Ms. Williams on West Truesdell Street at the Piedmont Street intersection in Wilmington, Ohio. Ms. Williams gave Officer Wisecup consent to search her car which included her purse … or did it?
During his investigation into Ms. Williams’ suspended license, Officer Wisecup asked Ms. Williams if she had any weapons in her vehicle. Ms. Williams answered that she did not. Officer Wisecup then asked, “nothing in the car I need to know about at all?” When Ms. Williams lied and answered “no,” the officer asked, “would you mind if I looked?” and Ms. Williams responded, “I don’t care.”. Ms. Williams then exited her vehicle, leaving her purse in the front seat. Spoiler alert – Ms. Williams would soon mind and care that Officer Wisecup searched her car.
Officer Wisecup searched the car, including her purse, and discovered a plastic bag of methamphetamine within Ms. Williams’ purse. Ms. Williams was indicted on one count of aggravated possession of drugs. Ms. Williams filed a motion to suppress. The trial court held a hearing during which Officer Wisecup testified, and a video was shown of the stop as recorded on the officer’s body camera.
After the hearing, the trial court ruled in favor of Ms. Williams, finding that the search violated Ms. Williams’ Fourth Amendment rights because her voluntary consent to search her car did not extend to the search of her purse. The City of Wilmington soon filed an appeal. The Twelfth District Appellate Court overturned the trial court’s decision to suppress the methamphetamine as it held “[W]e find that Williams gave her consent to search her vehicle and that such consent applied to the purse she left in the front seat. As such, the trial court erred in granting Williams’ motion to suppress and the state’s single assignment of error is sustained.”.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Williams, 2021 – Ohio 3704 and a phone interview with Officer Wisecup on December 2, 2021.
This case was issued by the Twelfth District Appellate Court which is only binding in the following Ohio Counties; Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Preble and Warren.
- How the trial court judge missed this elementary analysis is frustrating but eventually the Twelfth District Appellate Court provided some wisdom. The appellate court analyzed the consensual search in this way “[T]he officer directly asked Williams if there were any weapons in her vehicle and when she responded no, asked again whether there was anything in the car he needed to know about. When Williams again answered no, the officer asked if she would mind if he checked. Thus, Williams was expressly aware that the officer would be searching the vehicle for weapons or other items the officer would have needed to know about, which could be easily found in her purse. The fact that the officer may have actually been looking for drugs does not change the fact that Williams was readily aware of the parameters of the officer’s intended search, and that a search for weapons or items of interest to a police officer would include her purse. However, and even if Williams was not aware that the officer could search for weapons or instrumentalities of a crime, her open-ended consent included the purse because a reasonable person would understand that an officer who asks for permission to search an area is looking for evidence of illegal activity, which can be located in containers within the vehicle.”.
- Law enforcement should not be concerned with the incorrect decision by the trial court judge. When a person in dominion and control of a motor vehicle grants consent, the consent is provided for the interior of the vehicle and the containers therein. This can be limited by the grantor if he would state that the officer could look anywhere except the glove compartment or similar limitations.
- Officer Wisecup should be commended for knowing the people in his city. Here the officer knew that Ms. Williams was previously an unlicensed driver which was soon confirmed by dispatch. Thereafter Officer Wisecup stopped Ms. Williams who quickly acknowledged that she did not have a valid license. There is much talk in yesteryear and today of ‘Community Policing’. This is but one very good example of Community Policing – knowing your area and who are your drug consumers.
Does your agency train on Consensual Searches?
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!