Even if the road name does not change?
[W]e conclude that an objectively reasonable police officer would believe that Mr. Cremeans’ conduct constituted a traffic violation based on the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the stop and thus, Trooper Cassidy’s stop of Mr. Cremeans’ vehicle was constitutionally valid.
State v. Cremeans
2022 – Ohio 3932
Fourth District Appellate Court
Ross County, Ohio
Undated – issued in November 2022
On December 6, 2019, Mr. James Cremeans was indicted on one count of aggravated possession of drugs, a third-degree felony in violation of O.R.C.§2925.11. The indictment stemmed from Mr. Cremeans’ arrest as a result of a traffic stop.
The record before us indicates that Chillicothe Police Detective, Samantha Taczak, observed Mr. Cremeans’ vehicle turn right at a stop sign at the intersection of Trego Creek Road and Lunbeck Road without using a turn signal. Mr. Cremeans was traveling eastbound on Trego Creek Road and heading towards U.S. Route 23.
Mr. Cremeans was traveling Eastbound on Trego Creek Road and failed to signal while turning right on the same road – Trego Creek Road. Did he have a legal requirement to use his turn signal? That is what the Fourth District Appellate Court had to evaluate.
Detective Taczak radioed Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper, Thomas Cassidy, who was sitting stationary in his cruiser near the intersection of Trego Creek Road and U.S. Route 23 and asked him to initiate a stop of Mr. Cremeans’ vehicle because she had observed a turn signal violation at the intersection. Trooper Cassidy, who was working in partnership with the Chillicothe Police Department on a joint drug interdiction detail, followed Mr. Cremeans onto U.S. Route 23 and initiated a traffic stop. Trooper Matthew Atwood, a canine handler for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, was also present with his vehicle and assisted Trooper Cassidy.
Because the arguments on appeal are limited to whether there was reasonable suspicion and probable cause to believe that Mr. Cremeans had committed a traffic violation. We simply note that the initial stop led to a request that Mr. Cremeans exit the vehicle, a canine sniff of the vehicle, an investigative detention after the canine alerted on the vehicle, a search of the vehicle, the discovery of what was later confirmed to be oxycodone hydrochloride in an amount equal to or exceeding the bulk amount but less than five times the bulk amount, and Mr. Cremeans’ arrest. Upon being indicted on the single count, Mr. Cremeans initially pleaded not guilty and subsequently filed a motion for leave to file a motion to suppress evidence.
The trial court granted the motion for leave and Mr. Cremeans filed a motion to suppress the same day, on June 17, 2020. In his motion, Mr. Cremeans argued that because he was continuing onto Trego Creek Road from Trego Creek Road after stopping at the stop sign at the three-way intersection of Trego Creek Road and Lunbeck Road, he was not required to signal a turn. Mr. Cremeans further argued that he “neither turned nor moved left or right upon a highway when he traveled through the intersection in the right-of-way of Trego Creek Road without changing or leaving his lane of travel” and therefore that he did not violate O.R.C. §4511.39.
The suppression hearing was continued twice but finally went forward on December 2, 2020. Detective Taczak was unable to appear due to being quarantined. However, Troopers Cassidy and Atwood testified at the hearing. Mr. Cremeans presented no witnesses, but offered two exhibits jointly with the State and stipulated that the two exhibits accurately depicted the intersection of Trego Creek Road and Lunbeck Road. Trooper Cassidy testified that from looking at the map, which was one of the joint exhibits, it appeared as though Lunbeck Road would continue straight onto eastbound Trego Creek Road at the intersection in question. He further testified that if a driver was sitting at the stop sign on Trego Creek Road heading east, as Mr. Cremeans was, he did not believe one could travel straight to continue on to Trego Creek Road, but rather a driver would actually have to make a 90 degree turn to continue on Trego Creek Road after stopping at the stop sign. He testified that he believed Officer Taczak had relayed a valid turn signal violation to him based on Mr. Cremeans’ change of direction at the intersection. On cross examination, Trooper Cassidy disagreed with defense counsel’s suggestion that the turn at issue was only a curve and he testified that in his view Mr. Cremeans had a stop sign and had to make a 90-degree turn “to get back on Trego.”
The trial court issued a ruling from the bench denying Mr. Cremeans’ motion to suppress which was followed by a written decision denying the motion on December 11, 2020. In its written decision, the trial court found as follows:
Mr. Cremeans contends that although Trego Creek Road changes direction to the right, he had no obligation to use a turn signal pursuant to O.R.C. §4511.39, because he neither turned, nor moved right or left on a roadway. Rather, Mr. Cremeans argues that he simply continued on Trego Creek Road. This Court disagrees. The change of direction made by Mr. Cremeans is not analogous to following a continuous curve in a roadway. This was an intersection. Regardless of whether the turn made by Mr. Cremeans was a traditional 90-degree turn, or something else, the facts establish that he was turning … Whether the name of the roadway upon which he choses to proceed changed in inconsequential.
Thereafter, on December 16, 2020, Mr. Cremeans filed a motion for leave to supplement the record with “additional data embedded in Google Maps, the data base which is the source of the two stipulated exhibits.” In the memorandum filed in support of the motion for leave, Mr. Cremeans’ counsel represented that on the afternoon of December 2, 2020, after the suppression hearing had concluded, he traveled to the intersection at issue and photographed signs appearing from the western approach to the intersection. The first sign provided notice of the approach to a stop sign and the second sign was described in the memorandum as a “horizontal alignment sign” that provided notice of a “reverse turn” on Trego Creek as the road proceeds through the intersection. The memorandum stated that Mr. Cremeans had asked the State to agree to a supplementation of the record on December 4, 2020, but the State had refused and questioned whether the sign was in place at the time of the incident on October 10, 2019. Mr. Cremeans further stated in his memorandum that “Counsel awaits a response from the Ross County engineer on this question.”
The State filed a memo contra to the motion for leave to supplement the record on January 11, 2021, arguing that the proposed additional exhibits were irrelevant to the legal questions at issue and may serve to confuse the issues or result in the need for additional future arguments of issues not raised in the motion to suppress. The State also argued that there was no evidence presented that the signs depicted in the proposed additional exhibits were actually present on the date in question. The trial court ultimately denied Mr. Cremeans’ motion on January 15, 2021, stating it had “considered the motion; the Memo Contra filed by the State of Ohio; and the record.”.
Thereafter, Mr. Cremeans filed his timely appeal to this Court, assigning three errors for our review.
The Initial Stop
“[A] police officer may stop the driver of a vehicle after observing even a de minimis violation of traffic laws.”See State v. Williams, 2014-Ohio-4897, citing Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, (1996), and Dayton v. Erickson, 76 Ohio St.3d 3, (1996).
“[A] traffic stop with the proper standard of evidence is valid regardless of the officer’s underlying ulterior motives as the test is merely whether the officer ‘could’ have performed the act complained of; pretext is irrelevant if the action complained of was permissible.” See State v. Koczwara, 2014-Ohio-1946.
Here, Mr. Cremeans was initially stopped for violating O.R.C. §4511.39 which governs the use of signals for turning or moving left or right on a highway. The statute provides in pertinent part as follows:
(A) No person shall turn a vehicle or trackless trolley or move right or left upon a highway unless and until such person has exercised due care to ascertain that the movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided. When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle … Moreover, this Court has held that the observation of a traffic violation provides law enforcement with both reasonable suspicion and probable cause to stop a vehicle. State v. Ware, 2019-Ohio-3885, citing State v. McDonald, 2004-Ohio-5395.
As set forth above, Mr. Cremeans contends that the trial court erred to his prejudice in finding there was reasonable suspicion and probable cause to believe that he had committed a traffic violation, thus rendering the traffic stop and subsequent detention unlawful. In support of this assignment of error, Mr. Cremeans initially argues that some of the factual findings made by the trial court were not supported by the record. In its decision denying Mr. Cremeans’ motion to suppress, the trial court made several findings of fact. Mr. Cremeans first challenges the trial court’s finding that an eastbound driver proceeding straight through the intersection of Trego Creek Road and Lunbeck Road, after stopping at the stop sign, would travel onto a private driveway after stopping at the stop sign.
After reviewing the transcript of the suppression hearing, including the testimony of Trooper Cassidy, as well as the joint exhibits depicting the intersection at issue, we conclude this factual finding made by the trial court is supported by competent credible evidence in the record. The trial court’s finding that traveling straight through the intersection would result in traveling down a private driveway, rather than continuing eastbound on Trego Creek Road, is supported by the joint exhibits as well as Trooper Cassidy’s testimony. Thus, we find no merit to this portion of Mr. Cremeans’ first assignment of error.
Second, Mr. Cremeans challenges the trial court’s finding that a driver in Mr. Cremeans’ position at the stop sign could have traffic approaching from both the right and the left. Again, a review of the intersection, as depicted in the joint exhibits, coupled with Trooper Cassidy’s testimony indicates that when Mr. Cremeans stopped at the stop sign while traveling eastbound on Trego Creek Road, he could have turned left onto Lunbeck Road, proceeded straight onto a private drive, or turned right to continue eastbound on Trego Creek Road. Further, Trooper Cassidy testified that the intersection at issue was a three-way stop, with stop signs at the east and west approach from Trego Creek Road, and when approaching Trego Creek Road from Lunbeck Road. Thus, when stopped at the stop sign, according to the exhibits in evidence, a driver in Mr. Cremeans’ position at the stop sign would have to make a right turn to continue eastward on Trego Creek Road. Thus, we find no merit to this portion of Mr. Cremeans’ first assignment of error.
Because Mr. Cremeans does not dispute that he failed to signal a right turn at the intersection of Trego Creek Road and Lunbeck Road and because we have upheld the trial court’s determinations that Mr. Cremeans was required to signal a turn under O.R.C. §4511.39, in light of the conditions that existed at the intersection at issue, we cannot conclude that the trial court erred in denying Mr. Cremeans’ motion to suppress based upon the ground that the initial investigatory stop was invalid. Further, we conclude that an objectively reasonable police officer would believe that Mr. Cremeans’ conduct constituted a traffic violation based on the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the stop and thus, Trooper Cassidy’s stop of Mr. Cremeans’ vehicle was constitutionally valid. Accordingly, we find no merit to Mr. Cremeans’ first assignment of error and it is overruled.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Cremeans, 2022 – Ohio – 3932.
This case was issued by the Fourth District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Adams, Athens, Gallia, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Vinton and Washington.
- Cremeans makes a valid argument that he continued on the same road – Trego Creek Road. Because he was continuing on the same road that he was not required to use his turn signal, even though he had stopped at a stop sign. However, his argument was not valid due to Turn and Stop Signals – O.R.C. §4511.39, which states in pertinent part “When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle.”.
- Due to the Exclusionary Rule, if Mr. Cremeans could have the court determine that the initial traffic stop, based on the lack of a turn signal was unlawful, then the oxycodone hydrochloride “in an amount equal to or exceeding the bulk amount but less than five times the bulk amount”, would have been suppressed and he would not have over a three year prison sentence.
- This stop is an OUTSTANDING example of investigators and uniformed teammates from different agencies working in concert to identify, arrest and prosecute felons. Well done Chillicothe Police Detective, Samantha Taczak, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper, Thomas Cassidy and his unnamed canine!
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