As a passenger of the vehicle, Ms. Hale could be detained for the duration of the stop. The duration of a traffic stop may last no longer than is necessary to resolve the issue which led to the stop and issue a traffic citation, absent specific and articulable facts demonstrating a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity other than the traffic violation to justify continued detention.
State v. Hale
2023 – Ohio – 1057
Fifth District Appellate Court
March 30, 2023
On August 30, 2021, Detective Benjamin Martens of the Licking County Sherriff’s Office was in uniform, driving a marked cruiser. Detective Martens was working with officers of the Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force, including Detectives Conley and Boerstler.
Detective Conley saw Terrance Cunningham driving a gold van. The van drove into the parking lot of an apartment complex, remained a short time, then left the parking lot. Mr. Cunningham was known to the detectives of the task force as a drug trafficker. Detective Boerstler relayed the van’s license plate number and the identity of the driver to Detective Martens, who ran the information through LEADS and learned Mr. Cunningham had a suspended license. Detective Martens radioed to inquire whether he should initiate a traffic stop, and Detective Conley responded affirmatively.
Criminal Activity Afoot at Circle K
Detective Martens located the van in the parking lot of a Circle K store. Detective Martens pulled his cruiser behind the van with his emergency lights activated. A Newark Police Department officer also responded to the Circle K parking lot. The encounter was recorded on Detective Martens’s cruiser camera and his body camera.
As Detective Martens turned into the lot, Mr. Cunningham was standing outside the van. Although Detective Martens did not notice Ms. Hale at the time he first pulled into the lot, his camera captured Ms. Hale exiting the store, returning to the passenger side of the vehicle, and reaching inside the open window before walking back toward the store. The van was parked directly in front of the entrance to the store.
Detective Martens asked Mr. Cunningham whether he was supposed to be driving. Mr. Cunningham said Ms. Hale was driving and pointed toward Ms. Hale as she was entering the store. Detective Martens approached Ms. Hale and asked her for identification. Ms. Hale indicated she felt sick and wanted to go into the store to use the restroom. Detective Martens told Ms. Hale she was not free to leave. Ms. Hale was carrying a black zipper purse and a grey zipper purse/pouch. She produced identification, and Detective Martens told Ms. Hale to go have a seat on the bumper of his police cruiser.
Ms. Hale again asked to go inside the store because she felt sick. Detective Martens told Ms. Hale to put her bags on the hood of the police cruiser. Detective Martens informed Ms. Hale that Mr. Cunningham did not have a valid driver’s license. She admitted she knew Mr. Cunningham did not have a license, yet she asked him to drive to the store.
Returning to Mr. Cunningham, Detective Martens informed Mr. Cunningham he knew Mr. Cunningham was driving, and could charge Ms. Hale with negligent entrustment because she admitted she knew Mr. Cunningham did not have a valid license. Detective Martens conducted a pat down search of Mr. Cunningham, finding a baggie in Mr. Cunningham’s pocket. Mr. Cunningham told the officer it was cocaine. Detective Martens asked Mr. Cunningham if there was a weapon in the van. Mr. Cunningham explained there was a firearm which belonged to Ms. Hale in the van. After allowing Mr. Cunningham to finish smoking a cigarette, Detective Martens placed Mr. Cunningham in the cruiser.
Detective Martens returned to Ms. Hale, moving the bags a bit further out of her reach. Detective Martens asked Ms. Hale if there was a firearm in the van. Ms. Hale responded there was a registered, unloaded handgun in the van. Detective Martens asked Ms. Hale if there were drugs in the van. Ms. Hale responded she had roach clips in her cigarette package and admitted she did not have a medical marijuana card. Detective Martens unzipped the grey bag Ms. Hale had placed on the cruiser, which he believed could contain a small firearm or marijuana. He found a substance in the bag which he suspected was methamphetamine. A search of the van revealed an unloaded firearm in a drawer underneath the passenger seat, two loaded magazines in a bag on the floor of the passenger side, a digital scale, and a box with drug residue.
Ms. Hale was indicted by the Licking County Grand Jury with aggravated possession of methamphetamine (R.C. 2925.11(A)(C)(1)(c)), aggravated trafficking in methamphetamine (R.C. 2925.03(A)(2)(C)(1)(d)), and improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle (R.C. 2923.16(B)). A superseding indictment was later filed, adding an additional charge of possession of methamphetamine (R.C. 2925.11(A)(C)(1)(a)).
Ms. Hale filed a motion to suppress. Following a suppression hearing, the trial court granted the motion, finding Ms. Hale was no longer a passenger of the vehicle, and officers had no additional reasonable suspicion Ms. Hale was involved in criminal activity; therefore, the seizure of Ms. Hale violated her Fourth Amendment rights.
It is from the June 14, 2022, judgment of the trial court the State prosecutes its appeal, assigning as error:
An officer may request identification from the passengers of a vehicle lawfully stopped for a traffic violation without running afoul of the Fourth Amendment. Interrogation relating to one’s identity or a request for identification by the police does not, by itself, constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure. See, I.N.S. v. Delgado, 466 U.S. 210, 216, (1984). “The temporary seizure of driver and passengers ordinarily continues, and remains reasonable, for the duration of the stop.” Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S.249, 258 (2007)
Retained Status as a Passenger
The trial court found because Ms. Hale had exited the vehicle, she was no longer a passenger of the vehicle, and the officer could not lawfully detain her as a passenger of a lawfully stopped vehicle. We disagree. We find Ms. Hale had not “left” the vehicle such as to no longer be considered a passenger of the vehicle. The vehicle was parked directly in front of the store, and at all times pertinent to the initial encounter with the police, Ms. Hale was at or very near the vehicle. As the officer was pulling into the parking lot, his camera recorded Ms. Hale exiting the store, but she returned to the vehicle and was seen reaching into the passenger side before turning to walk toward the store. Further, upon initial contact, Mr. Cunningham indicates Ms. Hale was driving the vehicle. Upon questioning, Ms. Hale admitted to being a passenger in the vehicle. We find under these circumstances Ms. Hale retained her status as a passenger of the vehicle throughout the encounter with law enforcement.
As a passenger of the vehicle, Ms. Hale could be detained for the duration of the stop. The duration of a traffic stop may last no longer than is necessary to resolve the issue which led to the stop and issue a traffic citation, absent specific and articulable facts demonstrating a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity other than the traffic violation to justify continued detention. State v. Robinette, 80 Ohio St.3d 234 (1997)
We find the detention of Ms. Hale to be permissible based on the developing facts of the encounter, which over time provided a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Even though she was not cited for wrongful entrustment of the vehicle to Mr. Cunningham, we find Ms. Hale could be detained while officers checked the operator’s licenses of both occupants and made a determination as to whether to charge Ms. Hale with wrongful entrustment.
A Carload of Probable Cause
While patting down Mr. Cunningham for officer safety, officers found a baggie in his pocket. Mr. Cunningham stated the baggie contained cocaine. When asked if he had a firearm, Mr. Cunningham explained there was a firearm in the vehicle which belonged to Ms. Hale. Although a firearm may be transported in a vehicle in a lawful manner, this new information gave police further cause to detain Ms. Hale to determine if the weapon was in fact being transported in a lawful manner.
After learning of the firearm from Mr. Cunningham, Detective Martens asked Ms. Hale if there was a weapon in the car, and she explained where the weapon was located in the vehicle. The detective then asked Ms. Hale if there were drugs in the car. She responded she had roach clips for marijuana in her cigarette package, and she did not have a medical marijuana card. Based on Ms. Hale’s admission, we find the detective had probable cause to further detain Ms. Hale for the crime of possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of O.R.C. §2925.14.
Once a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe a vehicle contains contraband, the officer may search a validly stopped motor vehicle based upon the well-established automobile exception to the warrant requirement. State v. Moore, 90 Ohio St.3d 47, 51, (2000), citing Maryland v. Dyson, 527 U.S. 465, 466, (1999). Where police officers have probable cause to search an entire vehicle, they may conduct a warrantless search of every part of the vehicle and its contents, including all movable containers and packages, which may logically conceal the object of the search. State v. Welch, 18 Ohio St.3d 88 (1985)
Detective Martens testified he began his probable cause search of the vehicle with the bags which had recently been removed from the vehicle, and testified the smaller bag he first opened could have contained a small firearm or marijuana. We find the search of the bags was permissible based on the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Accordingly, we find the trial court erred in granting Ms. Hale’s motion to suppress.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Hale, 2023 – Ohio – 1057.
This case was issued by the Fifth District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas.
- The key question is whether or not a vehicle passenger is seized at the moment the vehicle is stopped by law enforcement. First, a passenger is detained when an officer stops a vehicle. The legal foundation for this legal ideology can be found in two cases. In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court held “[I]n view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.”. S. v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980). Also, in 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court held “Brendlin [a vehicle passenger] was seized from the moment Simeroth’s car came to a halt on the side of the road, and it was error to deny his suppression motion on the grounds that seizue occurred only at the formal arrest.”. Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249 (2007) Both cases provide the legal framework that a passenger IS seized during a traffic stop.
- Though the court does not make issue of statement, it glosses over a key issue. It is instructive to spend some time breaking it down. The court states in pertinent part “While patting down Mr. Cunningham for officer safety, officers found a baggie in his pocket.”. First, there is no pat down for officer safety, it does not legally exist. For additional information see Is There a Pat Down for Officer Safety?. Second, once the bag was felt by the officer it is unlikely that the officer determined the baggie to be a weapon. Since, it was not a weapon, then the Plain Feel Doctrine may have been used. For more on the Plain Feel Doctrine, see What Do Breast Implants and the Plain Feel Doctrine have in Common?.
- The court also does not provide analysis on the Automobile Exception to the Fourth Amendment. For more information on this exceptional exception see What’s in Bandit’s Paper Bag?.
- Was there a Miranda violation when … “Detective Martens informed Ms. Hale that Mr. Cunningham did not have a valid driver’s license. She admitted she knew Mr. Cunningham did not have a license, yet she asked him to drive to the store.”? There is a immeasurable amount of time from the start of the traffic stop until the person is in Miranda-custody. There is no finite amount of time rather it is a fact-based determination on a case-by-case basis. For more on when a roadside Miranda warning is required see Were Gary’s Self-Incriminating Statements Roadside during a Traffic Stop require the Miranda Warning?.
- Detective Benjamin Martens, Detective Conley and Detective Boerstler should all be commended for working in concert on the arrest, conviction and successful appeal of Ms. Hale!
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