As we have determined that the extension of the stop was improper once the officer recognized Ms. Dunlap was not the driver.
State v. Lewis
2022 – Ohio – 3006
Eleventh District Appellate Court
Geauga County, Ohio
August 29, 2022
An officer in the Eleventh District Appellate Court District testified that for the entirety of his shift on March 15, 2021, he was in a parking lot running random registration checks on passing vehicles. He entered the tag of a Kia Forte into the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS), which showed the registered owner, Ms. Jessica Dunlap, was a suspended driver. At that time, he had not yet observed the driver but had reviewed Ms. Dunlap’s identifying information in LEADS, including her height, weight, and gender. The officer performed a traffic stop of the vehicle.
Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer observed that the driver did not match Dunlap’s description, whom he knew to be a white female, and was instead an African American male, later identified as Mr. Je’Brel Lewis. A female, later identified as Ms. Dunlap, was in the passenger seat. The officer informed Mr. Lewis that the reason for the stop was the invalid license of the registered owner. The officer asked Mr. Lewis if he had a valid license. Mr. Lewis responded that he believed his license was valid, pointed to the passenger, and stated he believed she had a valid license. The officer then asked for Mr. Lewis’ license and was provided a state identification card. The dash cam video recording shows that upon taking the identification, the officer indicated “[I]f you’re valid, you guys are good to go.” The officer testified that he requested identification to document the driver in his report and to confirm that Mr. Lewis was legally able to drive the vehicle. The officer entered Mr. Lewis’ information into LEADS and determined he had a suspended driving status and outstanding warrants.
Since there was no valid driver, the officer contacted a tow truck for the vehicle. As the warrants indicated the potential that Mr. Lewis was armed, the officer asked him whether there was a weapon in the vehicle. Mr. Lewis confirmed that there was and, when asked of its location, he pointed to the front passenger side door compartment, said it was unloaded, and granted permission to enter the vehicle. A firearm was recovered as well as a loaded magazine.
On August 11, 2021, the trial court issued an Order denying Mr. Lewis’ Motion to Suppress. It determined that “[T]he officer was confronted with a new potential for criminal activity even after discovering Dunlap was not driving this vehicle” and had grounds to question “[I]f the registered owner of the vehicle was not driving it, then who was?” It found that detention of Mr. Lewis to determine his identity after a legitimate traffic stop was constitutional.
Mr. Lewis entered a plea of no contest to the charge in the indictment on September 21, 2021. He was sentenced to a term of two years of community control and 14 days of residential community control in the Geauga County Safety Center.
A traffic stop “[M]ust be carefully tailored to its underlying justification … and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500, (1983).
Of note, the United States Supreme Court has also questioned the existence of reasonable suspicion where an officer observes that the owner’s identity differs from the driver. It found: “[I]f an officer knows that the registered owner of the vehicle is in his mid-sixties but observes that the driver is in her mid-twenties, then the totality of the circumstances would not ‘raise a suspicion that the particular individual being stopped is engaged in wrongdoing.’” Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. 1183, 1191 (2020).
As we have determined that the extension of the stop was improper once the officer recognized Ms. Dunlap was not the driver, evidence resulting from the continued detention, i.e., discovery of the firearm, must be suppressed.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Lewis, 2022 – Ohio – 3006.
This case was decided by the Seventh District Appellate Court which is only binding in the following Ohio Counties: Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson, Mahoning, Monroe and Noble.
- In 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court opined “The ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is Reasonableness.”. Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). In this case the owner of the Kia Forte was Ms. Jessica Dunlap. Dunlap did not have a valid drivers license. However, the LEADS information indicated that Ms. Dunlap was a white female. The driver was a male black. On first approach the officer observed that the driver was clearly not Ms. Dunlap and the purpose of the traffic stop ended. However, the officer extended the stop to determine if the black male, Mr. Je’Brel Lewis was a valid driver. At this moment Mr. Lewis’ Fourth Amendment rights of unlawful detention were violated. Law enforcement cannot extend a detention beyond what is reasonable, and this was unreasonable.
- In 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court issued Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. 1183, 1191 (2020). In that case Douglas County Kansas, Deputy Mark Mehrer stopped Mr. Charles Glover for the exact same reason as the officer in this case stopped Mr. Lewis. Just like this officer, Dep. Mehrer determined that the vehicle owner did not have a valid driver’s license and stopped the vehicle. The owner was driving the vehicle and was charged with Kansas’ version of No Operator’s License. In the opinion of the court in the Glover case, the U.S. Supreme Court specifically cautioned law enforcement “[T]he presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion.”. Here, the officer did have additional facts that did dispel his reasonable suspicion – the driver was a black male, not a white female. At that moment, the officer should have explained the reason for the stop and sent the driver on his way with no further investigation. For more information on the Glover case see Reasonable Suspicion Fit Like a Glove(r).
- In the case the court uses the word gender when providing the facts of the case. Both courts and law enforcement should not use the word gender, rather, use the word sex. Currently, there are over sixty recognized genders. The word sex should reduce confusion.
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