The trial court’s decision in this case stretches the Fourth Amendment’s protections to the point of snapping.
State v. Edwards
2022 – Ohio 2384
Twelfth District Appellate Court
Warren County, Ohio
July 11, 2022
At approximately 9:37 p.m. on the evening of June 10, 2021, Franklin, Ohio Police Officer Patrick Holland was on duty training a newly hired police officer, Officer Davis. At that time, Franklin, Ohio Police Officer Patrick Holland was driving his marked patrol car near the intersection of William C. Good Boulevard and State Route 123 in Franklin, Warren County, Ohio.
While passing through that intersection, Officer Holland saw a male, he knew Mr. Jesse Edwards, driving a red Monte Carlo in the opposite direction on State Route 123. Officer Holland recognized Mr. Edwards as the driver because of “[S]everal run-ins with Mr. Edwards through [his] almost 11 years at the City of Franklin.” Officer Holland also knew Mr. Edwards “was under several active suspensions” because he had “[J]ust previously ran [Mr. Edwards] through [his in-car] computer system earlier that week.” Officer Holland further testified that he had “just had an encounter with [Mr. Edwards] a few weeks prior” where he “issued [Mr. Edwards] a driving under suspension” because Mr. Edwards “[W]as under multiple suspensions.”.
Upon seeing Mr. Edwards driving that evening, Officer Holland made a U-turn back towards the intersection of William C. Good Boulevard and State Route 123. After making that U-turn, Officer Holland noticed Mr. Edwards appear to “accelerate rapidly” just prior to him turning into a nearby Waffle House parking lot. Officer Holland then watched as Mr. Edwards parked the Monte Carlo in the parking space closest to the exit onto State Route 123 “[M]aybe five or six parking stalls to the east of the front doors of Waffle House.”
Mr. Edward’s abruptly parked in the Waffle House parking lot located at 6840 Franklin Lebanon Road, in Franklin, Ohio. He had a lot of methamphetamine that the trial judge excluded. But would the Twelfth District Appellate Court agree?
Officer Holland then saw Mr. Edwards exit the vehicle and begin nervously walking towards the Waffle House entrance in such a manner that, based on Officer Holland’s training and experience, gave Officer Holland the impression that Mr. Edwards might “take off,” “turn around,” and “run.” This included Mr. Edwards “looking around,” possibly gauging where the “best avenues” were for Mr. Edwards to “escape.”
Officer Holland followed Mr. Edwards into the Waffle House parking lot. Officer Holland testified that upon driving his patrol car into the Waffle House parking lot Mr. Edwards was “in the middle of the parking lot between the two parking lanes” attempting to “distance himself from the vehicle.” Officer Holland then stopped his patrol car, exited the vehicle, and told Mr. Edwards “not to do it because he appeared like he was going to run.” Officer Holland then told Mr. Edwards to walk back over towards him and Officer Davis. The record indicates Mr. Edwards complied with Officer Holland’s directive. Officer Holland then told Mr. Edwards that he was going to search his person for weapons, “to which [Mr. Edwards] didn’t object.”.
Following the search of Mr. Edwards’ person, Officer Holland placed Mr. Edwards under arrest for driving under suspension. Officer Holland then put Mr. Edwards in handcuffs and secured Mr. Edwards in the back of his patrol car. Explaining why he did this, Officer Holland testified: “I detained [Mr. Edwards] in the rear of my patrol car because once I initiated the traffic stop, his body language was pretty common with someone who flees on foot. And I didn’t want him to run or pose a threat to himself or myself by having to get into an altercation with him. So I did place him in handcuffs and secured him in the back of my patrol car.”.
After placing Mr. Edwards under arrest, and once Mr. Edwards was secured in the back of his patrol car, Officer Holland exercised his discretion to have the Monte Carlo towed out of the Waffle House parking lot. Officer Holland testified this decision was made per the terms of the Franklin Police Division’s policy regarding when a vehicle could, or should, be towed. This is because, as Officer Holland testified, “[S]ometimes we can make other arrangements and sometimes we tow the vehicle.” Officer Holland later testified that he decided to have the vehicle towed per the towing policy given Mr. Edwards’ status as a “habitual driving offender” who he had “multiple dealings with” because it was his belief that Mr. Edwards’ mother “allows” him to drive the Monte Carlo despite her knowing Mr. Edwards does not have a valid driver’s license.
Officer Holland testified the Franklin Police Division’s towing policy requires all vehicles being towed to undergo an “inventory search.” Officer Holland testified this type of search is necessary so that “we know what’s in there so they can’t claim that we stole something or something is missing out of there. That way we have a log of what’s in there.” After deciding to have the vehicle towed, Officer Holland told Mr. Edwards that he was going to conduct a “search” of the vehicle. Officer Holland and Officer Davis then proceeded over to where the Monte Carlo was parked in the Waffle House parking lot. Once there, Officer Holland testified that he saw in “clear,” “plain view,” “in the open,” near the vehicle’s “center console” and gear shifter a small piece of methamphetamine, “[a]lmost like a small chard of meth.” Officer Holland testified that two clear plastic baggies containing methamphetamine were also found outside “directly in front” of the Monte Carlo sitting in plain view approximately five to ten feet away from the vehicle “in the grassy area separating the parking lot of Waffle House and State Route 123.”.
Trial Court Excludes Evidence
The trial court instead found Officer Holland’s testimony “was indicative of a pretextual search” of the vehicle. Explaining its reasoning, the trial court stated:
Officer Holland did not consider the location of the vehicle and the potential hazard or inconvenience it posed to the public or even the owner of the Waffle House. Officer Holland’s decision [to have the vehicle towed] was made based solely on his prior dealings with [Mr. Edwards] and his evidence[d] displeasure with the fact [Mr. Edwards’] mother allowed him to drive a vehicle with a suspended license. The Court finds Officer Holland was looking for evidence to use against [Mr. Edwards] during the inventory search rather than for valuables to safeguard.
The search of the vehicle in this case was not objectively reasonable under the Fourth amendment. It was not a reasonable search incident to arrest or a lawful impoundment. [Officer Holland] testified that [Mr. Edwards] was outside the vehicle by the time the officer arrived on the scene and [Mr. Edwards] was immediately taken into custody for driving under suspension. Officer Holland’s decision to impound and search the vehicle was based solely on his discretion, and he made that choice not based upon the crime for which he was arresting [Mr. Edwards] or the location of the vehicle in relation to the safety of the public, but because he knew [Mr. Edwards], had prior criminal dealings with [Mr. Edwards], and desired to search the vehicle for evidence of further crimes.
The fact [that] any person may be arrested in Franklin, Ohio and may be permitted to have his or her vehicle retrieved by a friend or relative rather than impounded based solely on the mood or whim of the arresting officer is precisely the type of governmental intrusion the Fourth Amendment seeks to prohibit. Permitting the evidence seized in and around the [vehicle] under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule would eviscerate the purpose of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Thus, the evidence must be excluded [as fruit of the poisonous tree].
On February 15, 2022, the state filed a timely notice of appeal from the trial court’s decision granting Mr. Edwards’ motion to suppress.
Appellate Court Analysis
The trial court found the contraband seized from inside the vehicle was the result of an unlawful impoundment by Officers Holland and Davis that was done merely as a “pretext for an evidentiary search” of the vehicle. The trial court’s decision, however, completely overlooks Officer Holland’s uncontradicted testimony that upon approaching the vehicle in the Waffle House parking lot, he discovered a piece of methamphetamine sitting out in “clear,” “plain view,” “in the open,” near the vehicle’s center console and gear shifter.
We find the trial court’s ability to overlook this testimony baffling when considering the trial court’s findings at the suppression hearing that:
(1) The methamphetamine seized from inside the vehicle “was in plain view;”;
(2) Officer Holland could search the vehicle “since [the methamphetamine] was in plain view, it was pretty apparent that [Officer Holland] was going to see [the methamphetamine] anyway” even without conducting an inventory search of the vehicle.
But, rather than focusing on what we find to be a clear application of the plain view doctrine, the trial court instead focused its attention on whether Officer Holland’s decision to have the Monte Carlo towed out of the Waffle House parking was a “[P]retext for an evidentiary search” of the vehicle. The trial court found that it was. We can find no evidence in the record to support such a finding. There is, in fact, nothing in the record that even remotely suggests Officer Holland was acting improperly and with some ulterior motive by making the decision to have the vehicle towed rather than let it sit idly by in the Waffle House parking lot. The record instead firmly establishes that both Officers Holland and Officer Davis were acting well within the acceptable bounds set forth by the Franklin towing policy when deciding whether that vehicle could, or should, be towed away from the scene. The fact that Officer Holland gave Mr. Edwards the courtesy of knowing he and Officer Davis were going to conduct a “search” of the vehicle prior to it being towed does not change that fact.
In so holding, we find it necessary to note our finding nothing unreasonable about a police officer exercising his or her discretion to have a vehicle towed out of a restaurant parking lot when the driver of that vehicle cannot legally drive away from the scene, both literally and figuratively, due to the driver having been placed under arrest, handcuffed, and secured in the back of a patrol car for driving with a suspended license. There is also nothing unreasonable about a police officer exercising his or her discretion to forego contacting the vehicle’s rightful owner prior to having a vehicle towed from the scene under these circumstances. This is because police officers, even those employed within the trial court’s jurisdiction, do not owe individuals who are placed under arrest for driving under suspension a favor by contacting a friend or a relative to come retrieve the vehicle that they were driving upon being placed under arrest. This includes, as it relates to the facts of this case, the driver’s mother.
To hold otherwise, like the trial court did in this case, places an undue burden on police officers to go out of their way to assist someone who had just moments before been committing a felony driving offense … The trial court’s decision in this case stretches the Fourth Amendment’s protections to the point of snapping. Therefore, because the trial court erred by granting Mr. Edwards’ motion to suppress as it relates to the contraband seized from inside the vehicle, the state’s arguments challenging the trial court’s decision to suppress the contraband seized from inside the vehicle are sustained.
Just like with the contraband seized from inside the vehicle, the trial court also erred by granting Mr. Edwards’ motion to suppress the contraband seized from outside the vehicle. There are multiple reasons for this.
First, Mr. Edwards had no legitimate expectation of privacy in the area surrounding the vehicle. This includes the grassy area between the Waffle House parking lot and State Route 123 where the contraband was located.
Second, Mr. Edwards had no legitimate expectation of privacy regarding the contraband at issue once he purportedly discarded the seized contraband as Officers Holland and Davis approached in a marked patrol car.
Third, the contraband was discovered outside and in plain view for the world to see had anyone stopped to look.
And fourth, even when assuming Officers Holland and Davis had conducted an unconstitutional inventory search of the vehicle, the connection between the search of the vehicle and the seizure of the contraband located outside that vehicle, if any, was so attenuated as to dissipate any resulting taint therefrom.
For the reasons outlined above, we reverse the trial court’s decision granting Mr. Edwards’ motion to suppress the contraband that was located both inside the vehicle and outside the vehicle Mr. Edwards was seen driving on the evening of June 10, 2021 and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Edwards, 2022 – Ohio 2384.
This case was issued by the Twelfth District Appellate Court and is only binding in the following Ohio Counties: Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Preble and Warren
- This case includes some harsh words by the appellate court condemning the judgment of a trial judge. “The trial court’s decision in this case stretches the Fourth Amendment’s protections to the point of snapping.”. Here, Field Training Officer Holland provided outstanding training to the newly hired Officer Davis. He demonstrated spot-on Community Policing. The officer knew his jurisdiction and understood that Mr. Edwards may have had more time in a cruiser than Officer Davis … albeit in a different seat. Officer Holland had recently run Mr. Edwards on LEADS and had real time information that he was driving under suspension. Upon seeing Mr. Edwards driving Officer Holland immediately stopped him and placed him under arrest for driving under suspension. All of these were lawful actions by Officer Holland who knew as much Criminal Procedure law as a recent law school graduate walking into the bar exam. Of course, Mr. Edwards made it easy as he had enough methamphetamine to make a meth lab blush.
- One of the keys to Officer Holland’s success was that he knew, understood and applied the Franklin Police Department’s impound policy. All officers can learn from Officer Holland’s leadership. This was an outstanding training experience for Officer Davis. For more on impounding see: Officer Frank Followed Department Policy … But Should You?.
- The appellate court also underscored the trial court’s mistake that Officer Holland a legal duty to call Mr. Edwards’ mother to the scene to recover her car. The Twelfth District Appellate Court held “There is also nothing unreasonable about a police officer exercising his or her discretion to forego contacting the vehicle’s rightful owner prior to having a vehicle towed from the scene under these circumstances. This is because police officers, even those employed within the trial court’s jurisdiction, do not owe individuals who are placed under arrest for driving under suspension a favor by contacting a friend or a relative to come retrieve the vehicle that they were driving upon being placed under arrest. This includes, as it relates to the facts of this case, the driver’s mother.”. For more information on contacting someone to retrieve a vehicle from a scene see Did the Sergeant have to wait for a Facetiming Valid Driver or was the Vehicle Impoundment Reasonable?.
- The trial judge inexplicably excluded the methamphetamine found OUTSIDE of Mr. Edwards’, mother’s car. So long as a law enforcement officer has not committed a Fourth Amendment violation to be in the spot of observation, any object in plain view may be admissible. For more on the Plain View Doctrine see Can an Incomplete Search Warrant Create a New Legal Doctrine? and Plain View Pocket Peek-a-Boo with Mr. Metz’s Meth.
- Today, there is much ink spilled on the problems with the criminal justice system. No doubt it can be improved. But this case is a prime example that it more often than not … works. The trial judge made several determinations that were wrong on the law and the appellate court correctly, corrected him. Well done Twelfth District Appellate Court!
Does your agency train on Plain View?
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!