Ida was in and out of the dope house in three minutes.

Ms. Garza was never told she was under arrest, was never handcuffed, was never touched by any of the officers, and was told she was free to go.

 

State v. Garza

2023 – Ohio – 2086

Fifth District Appellate Court

Richland County, Ohio

June 22, 2023

Ida is In the Dope House Three Minutes

Shortly after midnight on Friday May 21, 2021, Officer Travis Stantz of the Mansfield Police Department was watching a suspected drug house from a distance of about 800 feet. He observed a pickup truck pull up to the house. The passenger, later identified as Ms. Ida Garza, left the truck and went inside the house. Approximately three minutes later, Ms. Garza returned to the truck.

License Plate Light was Out

Officer Stantz followed the truck and noticed the rear license plate light was either not present or was dimmed so the plate could not be read, in violation of O.R.C. §4513.05 and Mansfield Municipal Code §337.04. He turned off his own headlights to confirm the license plate light on the truck was not operational, then stopped the pickup truck.

Consent to Search

After stopping the vehicle, Officer Stantz conversed with both the driver and Ms. Garza, while backup arrived on the scene. The driver was not the owner of the vehicle. The driver was asked to step out of the vehicle, and Officer Stantz questioned her about where they were going. The driver gave consent to search the vehicle.

Ida had Breasts AND Cocaine in her Bra

Ms. Garza was asked to step out of the vehicle. Officer Stantz and another officer who had arrived on the scene told Ms. Garza they knew she had something on her, and if she handed it over she would be allowed to go home. Ms. Garza admitted she had crack cocaine in her bra. She retrieved the cocaine and handed it to the officers.

Ms. Garza was indicted by the Richland County Grand Jury on one count of possession of cocaine in violation of §O.R.C. 2925.11(A)(C)(4)(a). She moved to suppress the cocaine on the basis the stop of the vehicle was illegal, and Ms. Garza was coerced into handing police the drugs without being read Miranda warnings.

Motion to Suppress

The trial court held a suppression hearing, at which Officer Stantz testified and his dash cam video was played. Ms. Garza also testified at the suppression hearing, stating although the officer said she was free to go she did not feel she was free to go. She testified she felt she was under arrest even though no one told her she was under arrest. Ms. Garza testified she felt compelled to comply with the request she hand over the drugs she was hiding in her bra.

Motion to Suppress is Denied as Miranda was Not Required

The trial court overruled the motion to suppress, finding the stop of the truck was justified by probable cause of a violation of the law regarding illumination of the license plate. The trial court found Miranda warnings were not required because Ms. Garza was not in custody at the time she was questioned by police and voluntarily handed over the crack cocaine. 

Plead Guilty to Possession of Cocaine

Ms. Garza entered a plea of no contest to the charge of possession of cocaine and was sentenced to thirty months community control. It is from the September 8, 2022 judgment of the trial court Ms. Garza prosecutes her appeal, assigning as error:

Was Miranda Required?

Ms. Garza argues she was subject to a custodial interrogation before the officer advised her of her Miranda rights.

Custody Analysis

A duty to administer Miranda warnings arises only when an accused is taken into custody. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). For purposes of Miranda warnings, “custody” is defined as a formal arrest or restraint on the freedom of movement to the degree associated with a formal arrest. State v. Mason, 82 Ohio St.3d 144, 154, (1998). In order to determine whether a person was in custody, the court should apply a totality-of-circumstances test, including where the interrogation occurred, whether the investigation had focused on the subject, whether the objective indicia of arrest were present, and the length of the questioning involved. Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318 (1994).

Was Ms. Garza Coerced to Retrieving Cocaine from her Bra?

After the driver gave consent to search the vehicle, Ms. Garza was instructed to step out of the vehicle. A request the driver and passengers step out of a vehicle which has been stopped for a traffic violation is permissible even without additional suspicion of criminal activity. See, e.g., State v. Williams, 94 Ohio App.3d 538, 544, (8th Dist. 1994). As Ms. Garza was stepping from the vehicle, officers can be heard on the dash cam video telling her they know she has something on her, and if she is honest with them and hands it over she will be allowed to go home, but if she makes them work, she will go to jail. Within seconds, Ms. Garza admitted to being in possession of crack cocaine, reached into her bra, retrieved the cocaine, and handed it to the officers. Ms. Garza was never told she was under arrest, was never handcuffed, was never touched by any of the officers, and was told she was free to go. Although she argues she was threatened by the officers with jail if she did not cooperate, we agree with the trial court the entirety of the dash cam video does not support a finding the conduct of the officers was threatening, physically intimidating, or an attempt to trick Ms. Garza into a confession.

Holding

We find the trial court did not err in finding she was not in custody for purposes of Miranda, and voluntarily gave the drugs in her possession to the police officers.

The assignment of error is overruled.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Garza, 2023 – Ohio – 2086.

State v. Garza, 2023 – Ohio – 2086 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.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Rear License Plate Light or Probable Cause to Search? In this case Mansfield Officer Stantz did what I did throughout my early career, which was to observe a drug consumer enter and leave an active dope house. Thereafter, look for an equipment or traffic violation to stop the vehicle and obtain consent or enough information to establish probable cause to search. However, once probable cause is established law enforcement can search anywhere in the vehicle that the contraband could be secreted.  See Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925) a.k.a. the Carroll Doctrine.  If a suspect enters and leaves an active dope house in three minutes, based on the activity of the dope house, the suspect’s behavior and other related factors, that may rise to probable cause to search the vehicle without establishing a traffic violation.
  2. Was a Miranda Warning Required? Miranda is a two-part test: 1) Was the suspect in custody; and 2) Was the suspect interrogated? As the U.S. Supreme Court held “We hold that when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by authorities in any significant way and is subjected to questioning, the privilege against self-incrimination is jeopardized.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 477 (1966)  However, there is a time frame that the suspect is not free to leave but is not in ‘Miranda Custody’.  Eighteen years after Miranda, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed this very issue in Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), as it held “[A person who is] temporarily detained as part of a routine traffic or investigatory stop is not generally deemed ‘in custody’, and hence, is not entitled to Miranda warnings.”  Id at 436.  Though the Fifth District Appellate Court did not identify Berkemer as a foundational case upon which to evaluate the questioning of Ms. Garza roadside, it is instructive for law enforcement to consider whether someone is in custody or “Miranda Custody’.  Here, Ms. Garza was not in Miranda Custody and her bra secreted crack was admissible. For more on roadside Miranda warnings see: Were Gary’s Self-Incriminating Statements Roadside during a Traffic Stop Require the Miranda Warning?

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