The trooper did not unconstitutionally extend the duration of the stop to review the audio and video recording of the driver and Mr. Farrow while they were in the back of the patrol car. His review of the recording and subsequent questions to the driver allowed the trooper to focus his search for the suspected contraband on the engine compartment where he found heroin and methamphetamines hidden near the headlight.
State v. Farrow
2023 – Ohio – 682
Fourth District Appellate Court
Lawrence County, Ohio
March 1, 2023
Trooper Malone of the Ohio State Highway Patrol testified that he was travelling westbound on U.S. 52 when a vehicle passed him with expired tags. Trooper Malone stopped the vehicle and as he approached it and spoke to the driver, he “detected a strong order of raw marijuana.” He testified that he has considerable experience and training in the detection of raw and burnt marijuana by smell. He ordered the driver to exit the vehicle, informed her that he detected a strong odor of raw marijuana, and asked her if she used marijuana. The driver stated that she had smoked marijuana the previous day, but Trooper Malone did not detect any signs of impairment and did not perform a sobriety test. During that same interaction, Trooper Malone asked the driver if there was anything illegal in the vehicle, which she denied but also stated, “I don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.” Trooper Malone testified that he informed the driver of her Miranda rights, handcuffed her, patted her down, and placed her in the back of his patrol car. Trooper Malone requested a backup officer to the scene and ordered Mr. Quazaa Farrow out of the car, spoke briefly to him, informed him of his Miranda rights, handcuffed him, patted him down, and placed him in the back of the patrol car with the driver. Trooper Malone testified that Mr. Farrow had the odor of raw marijuana on his person and a large amount of cash in his pocket.
A Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy arrived to assist, and he and Trooper Malone searched the passenger compartment of the vehicle based on Trooper Malone’s detection of the strong odor of marijuana but did not find any marijuana or other illegal drugs. The deputy left to respond to another call. Trooper Malone removed the handcuffs from the driver and Mr. Farrow, returned them to the vehicle, called for an additional backup officer, and reviewed the audio and video recording of the conversation between Mr. Farrow and the driver while they were detained in the patrol car.
The recording further confirmed Trooper Malone’s suspicion that there were drugs hidden somewhere in the vehicle. Trooper Malone testified that law enforcement typically review the audio and video recording from the patrol car once probable cause has been established. He testified, “I felt that there was, you know, potential to have drug activity going on … we watch this video to see if, you know, if they’ve just said anything to each other … anything that would lead me to believe that there’s definitely drugs in the car … because I hadn’t found anything yet and it was an overwhelming odor of weed in the car.”
Trooper Malone testified that the driver stated, “I’m going to jail” and Mr. Farrow stated that “he would loose [sic] his money in his pocket if they claimed it.” Trooper Malone placed Mr. Farrow back in the patrol car, returned to the vehicle, and asked the driver why she made the statement about going to jail. The driver said she thought Mr. Farrow might have drugs and that when Mr. Farrow was at her house, she came out of her house and the hood was up on her car. Trooper Malone and the second backup officer placed the driver back in the patrol car and searched the passenger compartment again “because at this time, I hadn’t found anything and there’s still a strong odor of marijuana.” They found a bag of marijuana under the front passenger seat. They searched under the hood in the engine compartment of the vehicle and found approximately 90 grams of methamphetamine and approximately 17 grams of heroin in a small opening near the passenger-side headlight.
Trooper Malone testified that after a brief conversation with Mr. Farrow, he released the driver without issuing a warning or citation for her expired tags and transported Mr. Farrow to the Lawrence County Jail.
Trial Court Upholds the Motion to Suppress
Following the hearing, the trial court issued a thorough, reasoned, and well- researched opinion. The trial court found that Trooper Malone had probable cause to stop the vehicle for expired tags and thus the initial traffic stop was constitutional. The trial court also found that when Trooper Malone detected a strong odor of raw marijuana emanating from the vehicle, he had probable cause to expand the scope of the initial stop and search the driver, Mr. Farrow, and the vehicle. However, after the officers found no evidence of marijuana in the passenger compartment, the trial court found:
It is at this point where Constitutional concerns begin to surface. The time permitted to complete the purpose of this stop (expired tags), and the subsequent probable cause search of the vehicle (stemming from the detection of the strong odor of raw marijuana) had concluded. But instead of issuing a citation or warning (verbal or written) to the driver for her expired tags, Trooper Malone took the handcuffs off the defendant and driver, and returned them to their vehicles.
Trooper Malone then watched the recording from the in-cruiser camera and testified that the conversations between the defendant and the driver while detained supported his suspicion that there were drugs in the vehicle. But at this point in time, Trooper Malone needed a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to extend the stop before he took the time to play the video. Instead, Trooper Malone testified that what he observed on the video provided the basis for his suspicion of criminal activity following the completion of the initial search of the vehicle.
Accordingly, the Court finds that the defendant’s detention was prolonged beyond what was reasonably needed to conduct the traffic stop and the first search of the vehicle based upon the detection of the strong odor of raw marijuana. Therefore, his continued detention of the defendant after the initial search of the vehicle constituted an illegal seizure. For the foregoing reasons, the defendant[’s] Motion to Suppress is hereby GRANTED.
An investigative stop may last no longer than necessary to accomplish the initial goal of the stop:
[T]he tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s “mission”—to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns. Because addressing the infraction is the purpose of the stop, it may “last no longer than is necessary to effectuate th[at] purpose.” Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been—completed. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 354 (2015)
Mission of a Traffic Stop
The United States Supreme Court has explained that tasks tied to traffic infractions include:
(1) Determining whether to issue a traffic ticket.
(2) Checking the driver’s license.
(3) Determining the existence of outstanding warrants.
(4) Inspecting the vehicle’s registration, and
(5) Examining proof of insurance.
“These checks serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.” Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 355 (2015)
An Investigative Detention Must Either Confirm or Dispel Criminal Activity
“The officer may detain the vehicle for a period of time reasonably necessary to confirm or dispel [the officer’s] suspicions of criminal activity.” … “Once the officer is satisfied that no criminal activity has occurred, then the vehicle’s occupants must be released.” State v. Robinette, 80 Ohio St.3d 234 (1997)
When an officer detects a strong odor of raw marijuana emanating from the vehicle, the officer is justified in extending the search beyond the vehicle’s passenger compartment to other areas of the vehicle.
If, during a valid stop, an officer qualified to recognize the smell of raw marijuana detects an overwhelming odor of raw marijuana, the officer is justified in believing that the vehicle contains a large amount of raw marijuana. If no large amount of raw marijuana is seen in the passenger compartment, the officer is justified in believing that a large amount of raw marijuana may be found in a container or compartment—including the trunk. State v. Gonzales, 2009 – Ohio – 168
[W]hen a police officer has probable cause to believe a vehicle contains evidence of a crime, the officer may conduct a warrantless search of every part of the vehicle and its contents, including all movable containers and packages, that could logically conceal the objects of the search. State v. Maddox, 2021-Ohio-586, citing United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, (1982).
Here Trooper Malone testified that he detected a strong odor of raw marijuana emanating from the vehicle and, when asked about her use of marijuana, the driver admitted she had smoked marijuana the day before. Based on this, Trooper Malone had probable cause to suspect contraband was hidden in the vehicle. Adding to the totality of the circumstances, the driver made an unusual comment about not wanting to be “caught in the crossfire” when asked about the presence of illegal drugs in the vehicle.
Although Trooper Malone was unable to locate contraband in the initial search of the passenger compartment, he testified that he continued to suspect the contraband was hidden somewhere in the vehicle. When Trooper Malone was asked on cross-examination why he did not let the driver and Mr. Farrow go after he found nothing after his first search of the passenger compartment, he testified, Because I still believed that there was something I wasn’t finding … I had probable cause to search … and I felt there was drugs there. It would be a borderline dereliction of duty if I just cut someone loose before I conducted, what I felt like, a thorough investigation.” He was entitled to review the audio and video recording of the driver and Mr. Farrow for any assistance it might provide in locating hidden contraband, and conduct a warrantless search of the entire vehicle, including any containers, the trunk, and the engine compartment. His reasonable suspicions were not dispelled merely because he did not locate contraband in the search of the passenger compartment. Therefore, he did not need a new articulable and reasonable suspicion to review the audio and video recording and conduct a second, more thorough search of the vehicle.
Similarly, we find that Trooper Malone’s suspicion that contraband was hidden in the vehicle was not dispelled simply because he was unable to locate any in his initial search of the passenger compartment. To conclude otherwise would mean that an officer who detects the odor of raw marijuana but does not find it in the passenger compartment would not be allowed to search the trunk, engine, or containers stored in the trunk or hidden in the engine compartment. Ohio law does not support this result and instead supports a thorough search of the entire vehicle. State v. Maddox, 2021-Ohio-586
We find the trooper’s initial stop for expired tags was constitutional and he did not violate the Fourth Amendment by expanding the scope of the stop based on the strong odor of raw marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The scope and duration of the stop was tailored to its underlying justification – an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contained contraband. The trooper’s reasonable suspicions were not dispelled after he failed to locate contraband during his initial search of the passenger compartment because the odor of raw marijuana entitles law enforcement to search the entire vehicle. The trooper did not unconstitutionally extend the duration of the stop to review the audio and video recording of the driver and Mr. Farrow while they were in the back of the patrol car. His review of the recording and subsequent questions to the driver allowed the trooper to focus his search for the suspected contraband on the engine compartment where he found heroin and methamphetamines hidden near the headlight.
We sustain the state’s sole assignment of error and reverse the trial court’s judgment.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Farrow, 2023 – Ohio – 682.
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.
- Law enforcement may not extend a traffic stop beyond the purpose of the origin of the stop. However, if law enforcement obtains information or evidence that the occupant of the vehicle is involved in criminal activity, then the officer may extend the stop to confirm or dispel criminal activity. These doctrines were established in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), Illinois v. Cabelles, 543 U.S. 405 (2005), Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 355 (2015). For more information on the ‘Rodriguez’ Moment see Can a Traffic Stop be Prolonged for a Canine if an Officer has a Gut Feeling that the Driver is Possessing Narcotics? – Lessons Learned #1.
- In this case Trooper Malone extended the traffic stop beyond the origin of expired tags. He was reasonably able to extend the traffic stop based on the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle and on or about the person of Mr. Farrow. Because Trooper Malone and the Lawrence County Deputy did not find any drugs during the first search of the car did not, in and of itself, dispel the probable cause for the search nor did the probable cause become stale. Trooper Malone placed both Mr. Farrow and the female driver in his cruiser which was recording the conversation between the two while Trooper Malone was searching the suspects’ vehicle. After removing the driver and Mr. Farrow from his cruiser, Trooper Malone reviewed the video. The trial court judge would later determine AT THIS MOMENT, Trooper Malone extended the stop beyond what is often called the Rodriguez Moment – titled for Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348, 355 (2015). This is an unreasonable analysis because in that moment the trooper was still actively confirming or dispelling his suspicions by reviewing the video.
- There is no expectation of privacy while detained in the back of a police cruiser. Though that argument was not made by Mr. Farrow or his defense team, a reasonable person would not expect to have a private conversation in a cruiser.
- Trooper Malone should be highly commended for his attention to detail and tenacity to discover the methamphetamine and heroin behind the headlight. This is demonstrative of his professionalism. Well done Trooper Malone!
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