No!

Contrary to Mr. Collins’s argument that his encounter with Officer Condon was an investigatory stop requiring reasonable suspicion, the encounter was a consensual one … The officer did not need reasonable suspicion to knock on the window of Mr. Collins’s parked car or to ask for his identification.

 

State v. Collins

2022 – Ohio – 4353

First District Appellate Court

Hamilton County, Ohio

December 7, 2022

Cincinnati Police Officer Joshua Condon testified that on Friday May 22, 2020, he was part of a gun – crime task force working in the West End neighborhood when a plainclothes officer reported that he witnessed an illegal dice game in the vicinity. According to Officer Condon, police know dice games “[F]or the high level of drugs and guns associated with them.” By the time that Officer Condon arrived on the scene, other police officers there had already arrested several people involved in the dice game.

Officer Condon noticed a car “[W]ith very heavy tint[ed]” windows that was parked on the street, about ten to 15 feet from the stoop where the dice game had been played. The car was running, but due to the “[V]ery, very dark” tint of its windows, the officer was unable to see if there were any occupants in it. The officer testified that a tinted-windows violation is a citable offense.

As Officer Condon approached the car, he could see at least two individuals “[L]aid back in the seats.” He knocked lightly on the driver’s window and asked Mr. Collins, who was seated in the driver’s seat, to roll down the window. When Mr. Collins did so, the officer asked if he had identification, and Mr. Collins produced an ID for the officer. At some point, the officer noticed that there was a third individual in the back seat of the car.

The officer testified that Mr. Collins “[K]ept reaching toward the center console.” While Mr. Collins was handing over his ID or while the officer was looking at the ID, the officer noticed a bag of pills in plain view on the seat between Mr. Collins’s legs “that [Mr. Collins] attempted to conceal.” The officer said: “It looked to me like it was what ended up being meth pills. So multi – – multiple colored meth stamped to look like ecstasy. I believe some of them were chipped off and broken … because there was a powder residue as well.”.

Police removed the occupants from the car and then searched the car. In addition to recovering the bag of pills from where Mr. Collins had been sitting, officers found a bag of cocaine in the center console and a gun under the driver’s seat.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. It found that police had reasonable suspicion to approach Mr. Collins’s car because it was a “[H]igh-crime area, lots of guns and drugs in that area.” The court found that police “[H]ad every right to go and investigate, especially a car running, with heavy window tint, to see who’s in the car.”

Mr. Collins filed a timely appeal to the First District Appellate Court of the denial of his Motion to Suppress.

 

Analysis

An investigative stop requires reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, (1968). But a consensual encounter requires neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and “will not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434, (1991).

The Supreme Court has explained: “Our cases make it clear that a seizure does not occur simply because a police officer approaches an individual and asks a few questions. So long as a reasonable person would feel free “to disregard the police and go about his business,” California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 628, (1991), the encounter is consensual and no reasonable suspicion is required. Therefore, an officer does not need reasonable suspicion to “ask questions of that individual [or to] ask to examine the individual’s identification.” State v. Taylor, 106 Ohio App.3d 741, 752, (2d Dist.1995).

Even if a police officer approaches a parked car and questions the car’s occupants, the officer’s “[C]onduct does not constitute a seizure and does not require a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity.” State v. Boys, 128 Ohio App.3d 640, 642, (1st Dist.1998)

“‘Generally, when a police officer merely approaches and questions persons seated within parked vehicles, a consensual encounter occurs that does not constitute a seizure so as to require reasonable suspicion supported by specific and articulable facts.’ ” State v. Keister, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 29081, 2022-Ohio-856,

Conclusion

Contrary to Mr. Collins’s argument that his encounter with Officer Condon was an investigatory stop requiring reasonable suspicion, the encounter was a consensual one. See State v. Lyle, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. 2020-Ohio-4683, ¶ 19 (officer’s knocking on the passenger window to ask if he or the driver had heard gunshots was a consensual encounter). The officer did not need reasonable suspicion to knock on the window of Mr. Collins’s parked car or to ask for his identification.

Holding

Therefore, we hold that the trial court properly denied Mr. Collins’s motion to suppress. We overrule the first assignment of error.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Collins, 2022 – Ohio – 4353.

This case was issued by the First District Appellate Court and is binding in Hamilton County, Ohio.

Lessons Learned:

  1. When a law enforcement officer knocks on an occupied vehicle without Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause is that an unlawful physical trespass? In accordance with this case, State v. Collins, the answer is no.  Here the First District Appellate Court determined that knocking on the window was a consensual encounter and was not violative of Mr. Collins Fourth Amendment rights.
  2. The trial court and the appellate court came to the same conclusion with two different legal analyses. The trial court concluded that Officer Condon had Reasonable Suspicion to approach and investigate the parked car as it held “At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. It found that police had reasonable suspicion to approach Mr. Collins’s car because it was a “[H]igh-crime area, lots of guns and drugs in that area.” The court found that police “[H]ad every right to go and investigate, especially a car running, with heavy window tint, to see who’s in the car.”. However, the appellate court determined that Officer Condon, approached and initiated contact with Mr. Collins as a consensual encounter, as it analyzed the stop “Contrary to Mr. Collins’s argument that his encounter with Officer Condon was an investigatory stop requiring reasonable suspicion, the encounter was a consensual one … The officer did not need reasonable suspicion to knock on the window of Mr. Collins’s parked car or to ask for his identification.”.  What is instructive is that Officer Condon did not need Reasonable Suspicion to knock on the window of the felony-mobile. Rather, it began as a consensual encounter.  As Officer Condon developed additional information and evidence beginning with baggie between Mr. Collins’ legs that matured into Reasonable Suspicion.  Well done Officer Condon!

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