Based on the totality-of-the-circumstances, we conclude that it was reasonable and objectively necessary for the deputies to immediately seize the unsecured, loaded firearm.

 

State v. Pine

2023 – Ohio – 2191

Fourth District Appellate Court

Ross County, Ohio

June 27, 2023

 

Domestic Dispute Results in a Call to 9-1-1

The events began on Wednesday June 9, 2021 with a 9-1-1 call for law enforcement assistance due to a domestic dispute between Mr. Jason Pine and his live-in fiancée Ms. Chelsea Knisley. Deputy Jacob Riege was first on the scene at 3479 Ragged Ridge Road, Frankfort, Ohio, and, upon arriving, he saw Chelsea and her mother, Martha Knisley, standing outside.

The events that unfolded at 3479 Ragged Ridge Road, Frankfort, Ohio on Wednesday June 9, 2021, involved a domestic dispute, a baseball bat and an unsecured but loaded AR 15.  Did the deputies and court make the right decisions?

Twelve-Year-Old Daughter Defends Mom with a Baseball Bat to the Head

Within thirty seconds of arriving, Ross Deputy Riege observed Chelsea with a bloody shirt and was then informed that Mr. Pine had Chelsea on the ground by the throat, and Chelsea’s twelve-year-old daughter, M.K., hit Mr. Pine with a baseball bat on the head. Deputy Riege was informed that the blood on Chelsea’s shirt was Mr. Pine’s after he was struck by the baseball bat. Additionally, within the same thirty seconds, Deputy Riege was immediately warned not to approach the trailer because Mr. Pine had a firearm, an AR-15. Deputy Riege was also informed that Mr. Pine had a magazine with him.

Casino Spending, OVI Incarceration and Five Lines of Xanax

Chelsea elaborated that she and Mr. Pine began arguing on their way home from the casino, where Chelsea spent too much money. As soon as they arrived home, Mr. Pine wanted to drive away with her truck, but she was not going to let him since the truck belongs to her, he just got out of jail for an OVI offense, and he took five lines of Xanax. The arguing turned physical and Mr. Pine had Chelsea by the throat on the ground. Martha lives next door and came to aid her daughter, but Mr. Pine pushed Martha’s face to keep her off of him. M.K. also came to her mother’s aid and used the baseball bat she was playing with and struck Mr. Pine on the head.

Twelve-Year-Old Daughter Hits Jason in the Head a Second Time with her Baseball Bat – Jason Flees with an AR 15

Mr. Pine was severely injured and was bleeding. Chelsea went inside the trailer and got a rag and was assisting Mr. Pine with his injury. While inside the trailer, the arguing continued and Mr. Pine obtained his AR-15 firearm and began loading the weapon. Martha and M.K. followed them inside and were aiding Chelsea. Mr. Pine pointed the firearm at Martha and threatened her. M.K. struck Mr. Pine again with the baseball bat. This is when the magazine Mr. Pine had fell on the ground, but he picked up another magazine and ran outside. Mr. Pine informed them that he was not leaving without a fight.

Where was Jason Hiding?

Another deputy arrived approximately twelve minutes after Deputy Riege and was updated of the situation – Mr. Pine had Chelsea by the throat, was injured and had an AR-15 firearm on him. The deputies looked around the wooded area by the trailer because that was where they initially thought Mr. Pine ran to. But after Martha checked in with her husband, who was next door and had been on the front porch with a clear view of the trailer, she informed Deputy Riege that Mr. Pine was hiding under the trailer. Martha’s husband saw Mr. Pine go under the trailer through an opening by the back steps.

Mom Declines to Files Charges but Grandma has Interest

Deputy Riege took pictures of Chelsea’s neck and when he was about to hand her the complaint form, she said she did not want to file charges and was no longer cooperating. Within a minute of Chelsea’s change of attitude, Deputy Riege observed Mr. Pine under the trailer. Deputy Riege relayed his observation to the other deputy, but she was unable to see Mr. Pine. Chelsea walked away as the deputies were discussing the situation and went inside the trailer yelling that she was not going to file charges. Martha, on the other hand, wanted to file charges and took the forms from Deputy Riege and went to her house to complete them.

Mom is Arrested for Misconduct at an Emergency

The deputies maneuvered their patrol cruisers to establish a perimeter around the trailer. At this time, approximately 55 minutes since arriving, dispatch advised Deputy Riege that Mr. Pine had felony convictions and was under disability. A sergeant also arrived at the scene and persuaded Chelsea to come out, but then she wanted to return back inside the trailer. The deputies arrested her for misconduct at an emergency scene.

Jason Emerges from His Hole but Quickly Retreats

An hour and eighteen minutes after arriving, Deputy Riege moved his cruiser and went to talk to Martha and the others at their house. Within two minutes of standing on the front porch with a clear view of the back of Mr. Pine’s trailer, Deputy Riege observed Mr. Pine crawl out, then back in, from a hole under the back of the trailer. And within twenty seconds, Deputy Riege observed two individuals standing in front of the hole at the back of the trailer. Martha advised the Deputy that they are Mr. Pine’s parents.

Jason’s Parents Coax Him Out of His Hole and He is Arrested

Deputy Riege asked Mr. Pine’s parents to come his way and informed them that Mr. Pine needed to come out from under the trailer. Mr. Pine’s mother stated that Mr. Pine is injured and she was worried about him. Deputy Riege asked the parents for their assistance to call Mr. Pine out. They agreed and Mr. Pine crawled out from under the trailer and headed toward Deputy Riege. This occurred approximately 1 hour and 26 minutes after Deputy Riege arrived at the scene. Mr. Pine cooperated and followed Deputy Riege’s instruction to drop the knife, be patted down and arrested. Mr. Pine declined medical assistance, and after he was read his Miranda rights, he continued to cooperate and informed the deputy his side of what occurred. Mr. Pine denied grabbing Chelsea by the throat, and stated that all he was trying to do was to restrain Chelsea from using a log roller to bust out the truck’s windows. Mr. Pine confirmed that M.K. struck him on the head with a baseball bat.

Mr. Pine’s Dad … “We know how that goes”

After securing Mr. Pine in the back of the cruiser, Deputy Riege continued to talk to his parents. The deputy informed them that Chelsea and Mr. Pine got drugs on the way home from the casino, that both were arrested and that Mr. Pine was arrested for domestic violence as Chelsea had redness on her neck. While Deputy Riege was speaking to the parents, Mr. Pine’s father said he asked Mr. Pine if he had a weapon, and that Mr. Pine stated he did not, but then the father clarified: “but we know how that goes.” Within two minutes of that statement by the father, the sergeant stated that if the firearm is under the trailer, they need to retrieve it so that no one else gets it.

Deputy Riege then returned to Martha’s house and spoke with M.K. and others who were there. The deputy was again informed that Mr. Pine went under the trailer with the AR-15 firearm with a magazine. Martha handed Deputy Riege the magazine that Mr. Pine dropped earlier.

AR 15 is Discovered with the Safety Off and a Round in the Chamber

On the body camera video at approximately 1 hour and 58 minutes, Deputy Riege begins searching for the AR-15 firearm by kneeling down and shining a flashlight through the openings under the trailer. The Deputy began his search moving counterclockwise beginning with the side opening, and ended his search, at the back opening where Mr. Pine had emerged. Within ten seconds of bending down at this opening, Deputy Riege indicated he found the firearm. He informed the sergeant to look right there at the black part of the firearm right under the tarp, and then the sergeant stated “I also see the magazine”. To retrieve the firearm, the sergeant pulled back part of the opened siding. After the firearm was retrieved, the sergeant indicated that the safety was off and that there was a bullet in the chamber.

Mr. Pine Opines that He Was Hiding the AR 15 with the Safety Off and a Round in the Chamber

After the firearm was seized, Mr. Pine was questioned about it, in which he explained that he has it for protection. Normally the weapon would be inside the trailer but he took it outside this time because Martha threatened to get her gun, and he got his AR-15 firearm to hide it. Deputy Riege again spoke to Martha, her other daughter, and M.K. before leaving the scene approximately 2 hours and 33 minutes after arriving.

Motion to Suppress

Deputy Riege’s search for the AR-15 firearm was the basis of Mr. Pine’s motion to suppress. Mr. Pine challenged the warrantless search since both he and Chelsea were in custody at the time. The state opposed Mr. Pine’s motion arguing that there was probable cause to conduct the search and that the warrantless search was appropriate pursuant to the plain view and exigent circumstance exceptions.

At the motion to suppress hearing, Deputy Riege was the sole witness with three exhibits admitted: state’s exhibits 1 and 2—photos of the trailer; and defendant’s exhibit A—Deputy Riege’s body camera video.

The trial court’s denial of Mr. Pine’s motion to suppress is before us for review.

The trial court erred by failing to suppress the firearm obtained as a result of an illegal search in violation of Mr. Mr. Pine’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution

Mr. Pine Challenges the Community Caretaking Doctrine

Mr. Pine argues that Deputy Riege’s warrantless search of his home was unreasonable and that the state failed to rebut the presumption in which none of the valid exceptions to the warrant requirement applied. Mr. Pine maintains that the search was per se unreasonable and the trial court erred in agreeing with the state that the plain view and exigent circumstance of community-caretaking exceptions justified the warrantless search. In challenging the trial court’s determination that the plain view exception applied, Mr. Pine asserts the deputies were not legally located on the premises when they conducted the search because the deputies already arrested Mr. Pine and secured him in the cruiser. Further, the deputies did not “inadvertently observe the gun,” where they conducted an “intentional and thorough search for a gun.”

Mr. Pine Challenges that the Unsecured Loaded AR 15 with the Safety Off Posed No Imminent Danger

 Mr. Pine also challenges the trial court’s determination that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search of his home. At the time the deputies conducted the search, there was no one in the trailer, “there was no risk of evidence being moved or destroyed, there was no need to prevent escape, and there was no imminent danger.”

Community – Caretaking Doctrine

Finally, Mr. Pine argues that the very narrow community-caretaking exception does not apply in this case. According to Mr. Pine, the United State Supreme Court decision in Caniglia v. Strom, 141 S.Ct. 1596 (2021), holds that the community-caretaking exception “does not apply to warrantless searches and seizures in the home.” Mr. Pine disputes the trial court’s finding that the firearm would be accessible to others, including children, in which the deputies conducted an extensive search on their knees and hands with the use of a flashlight to find it. Mr. Pine argues that even if the trial court’s factual findings were supported by the record, the deputies’ “desire to protect the public did not justify a warrantless search of Mr. Mr. Pine’s home.”

Plain View Doctrine

In response, the state contends that the deputies had probable cause to conduct the search and both the plain view and community-caretaking exceptions apply. For the plain view exception, the state disputes Mr. Pine’s assertion that the deputies were not legally on the property when they conducted the search. The state contends that the deputies were still responding to the 9-1- 1 call and investigating the crimes committed by Mr. Pine, including Mr. Pine threatening Martha with the firearm and taking the firearm with him when he hid under the trailer. Further, the deputies’ use of the flashlight does not negate the plain view exception. Moreover, the firearm was immediately apparent to Deputy Riege.

Does Caniglia v. Strom, 141 S.Ct. 1596 (2021) Apply?

With regard to the community-caretaking exception, the state asserts that Deputy Riege had probable cause that a crime had been committed, that the firearm was involved in the crime, and that the firearm was under Mr. Pine’s trailer. The removal of the firearm was necessary to protect the victim’s minor child and other members of the community from the firearm. The state argues that Caniglia is factually distinguishable from the case at bar in which the facts here established a minor child was involved and present.

Did the Emergency of an Unattended Loaded AR 15 End with Arrests?

Mr. Pine in his reply brief, reiterates that once Chelsea and Mr. Pine were taken into custody, the deputies’ lawful presence responding to the emergency call ended. Thus, the plain view exception does not apply as they were no longer lawfully on the premises. Moreover, Mr. Pine reasserts that the Caniglia decision “explicitly held that the community caretaking exception cannot be used to justify a warrantless search of a home under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” (Emphasis sic.) Additionally, Mr. Pine argues there were no exigent circumstances at the time of the search, where both Mr. Pine and Chelsea were in custody and Chelsea’s minor child was at Martha’s residence. Accordingly, there was no urgency to search before obtaining a search warrant.

Does Caniglia v. Strom Apply?

In support of his argument that the exigent circumstance community-caretaking exception does not apply, Mr. Pine relies on the decision in Caniglia v. Strom, U.S. , 141 S.Ct. 1596, 1598, (2021). Mr. Pine interprets the United States opinion as “explicitly” holding “that the community caretaking exception cannot be used to justify a warrantless search of a home under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” (Emphasis sic.) We disagree with Mr. Pine’s overreach reading of the Caniglia opinion. 

Mr. Pine concludes an all-encompassing interpretation of the Caniglia opinion, which is that the community-caretaking exception can never be applied to a warrantless entry into a home. We disagree with Mr. Pine’s interpretation and find the concurring opinions instructive and supportive of our conclusion that the United States Supreme Court in Caniglia had an issue with the lower courts applying the exception as a standalone doctrine when officers are not acting in a criminal law enforcement task.

Supporting Case Law for Ross County Sheriff’s Office

Chief Justice Roberts, with whom Justice Breyer joins, concurs with the opinion but wrote separately to expound on “[T]he role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties.” Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 406, (2006).

A warrant to enter a home is not required, we explained, when there is a “need to assist persons who are seriously injured or threatened with such injury.” Id., at 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943.  Id. at 1600 (Roberts, C.J., concurring). 

Justice Alito reiterated that “there is no special Fourth Amendment rule for a broad category of cases involving ‘community caretaking.’ As I understand the term, it describes the many police tasks that go beyond criminal law enforcement.Id. at 1600 (Alito, J., concurring).

In his concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh agreed that “Over the years, many courts, like the First Circuit in this case, have relied on what they have labeled a “community caretaking” doctrine to allow warrantless entries into the home for a non- investigatory purpose, such as to prevent a suicide or to conduct a welfare check on an older individual who has been out of contact. But as the Court today explains, any such standalone community caretaking doctrine was primarily devised for searches of cars, not homes … The Court’s Fourth Amendment case law already recognizes the exigent circumstances doctrine, which allows an officer to enter a home without a warrant if the “exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Brigham City, 547 U.S. at 403, (internal quotation marks omitted) Id. at 1603 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring).

Trial Court Determines the Search and Securing of the AR 15 Reasonable

Deputy Riege searched for the weapon in order to make certain no one would retrieve it, and based on the totality-of-the-circumstances, we find the warrantless search for the unsecured AR-15 firearm with a loaded magazine was reasonable and did not violate Mr. Pine’s Fourth Amendment right. The trial court factually determined that: “in this case it wasn’t a long lapse of time, the firearm would have been accessiable (sic.) uh, perhaps to others, certainly to children, certainly to other people in the neighborhood.”

Review of the Salient Facts

The trial court’s factual determination is consistent with competent, credible evidence. Moreover, we conclude that as the circumstances unfolded, the deputies had probable cause to conduct a warrantless search for the loaded AR-15 firearm pursuant to the community-caretaking exigent circumstance as supported by the following known facts prior to Deputy Riege’s search and seizure of the firearm:

  1. Chelsea had redness on her neck consistent with the allegation that Mr. Pine grabbed her by the throat.
  2. The physical altercation progressed to where Mr. Pine grabbed his AR-15 firearm, was loading it and had a magazine.
  3. Pine pointed the firearm at Martha and threatened her.
  4. Pine has several felony convictions and is under disability.
  5. Pine informed others that he was not leaving without a fight.
  6. Pine was seen crawling under the trailer with the loaded firearm and a magazine.
  7. Pine’s parents came to his aid when he called them by driving from their residence that his mom claimed was far away.
  8. Pine’s parents approached the back side of Mr. Pine’s trailer and stood within a few feet from the opening in which Mr. Pine was hiding.
  9. Pine’s father questioned Mr. Pine’s sincerity when he said he did not have the firearm under the trailer.
  10. Chelsea’s parents live next door within 100 feet of full view of Mr. Pine’s trailer. According to Mr. Pine, they have previously stolen his belongings.
  11. Before the deputies arrived, Martha removed one of Mr. Pine’s magazines from his trailer without his consent.
  12. The trailer is close to the road and has no fencing around it.
  13. More than ten adults and one minor child were aware that the firearm was under the trailer. (Chelsea, Chelsea’s parents, daughter, sister, aunt and uncle, an unidentified male at the scene, Mr. Pine, and Mr. Pine’s parents.)
  14. Martha more than once offered to crawl under the trailer and retrieve the firearm for the deputies.

The Search by Deputy Riege was Objectively Reasonable

Based on the totality-of-the-circumstances, we conclude that it was reasonable and objectively necessary for the deputies to immediately seize the unsecured, loaded firearm. The search was reasonable in duration, in which Deputy Riege’s search of all openings under the trailer was for less than four minutes, and was reasonable in process in which Deputy Riege did not manipulate any of the openings and simply used a flashlight.

But under the totality-of-the-circumstances here, Mr. Pine physically assaulted Chelsea, is on disability, was in possession of a loaded AR-15 firearm, hid the loaded firearm under the unfenced trailer, the firearm was unsecured, and within 100 feet of adults and a minor, who knew it was there, and, according to Mr. Pine, had previously stolen items from him. Thus, in the case at bar, the deputies had probable cause and did not rely on their community-caretaking function as a standalone reason to conduct the warrantless search for the loaded AR-15 firearm that posed an immediate threat of serious consequence of injury. Wherefore, Mr. Pine’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure was not violated.

Fourth District Appellate Court takes No Position on the Plain View Doctrine

Having determined that the community-caretaking exigent circumstance was demonstrated by the state and supports the trial court’s decision to deny Mr. Pine’s motion to suppress, we need not address the alternative exception of plain view. 

Holding and Conclusion

Accordingly, we overrule Mr. Pine’s assignment of error and affirm the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. Mr. Pine’s conviction and sentence are upheld.

Having overruled Mr. Pine’s assignments of error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment entry of conviction.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Pine, 2023 – Ohio – 2191.

State v. Pine, 2023 – Ohio – 2191 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.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Community Caretaking Doctrine – On May 17, 2021 the U.S. Supreme Court issued Caniglia v. Strom, 141 S.Ct. 1596 (2021). In that case the court determined that law enforcement could not enter a home under the Community Caretaking Doctrine as it held “What is reasonable for vehicles is different from what is reasonable for homes.”.  When this case was issued many legal analysts, including me, wondered how this set-in-stone doctrine would be applied to so many variations of unsecured, loaded firearms in the future.  Now comes Mr. Pine and his loaded AR 15.  If Deputy Riege had not been diligent to secure the weapon, what would have happened?  No one knows, but we do know that because he was diligent to secure the AR 15 no one was hurt with that weapon.  For more on Caniglia v. Strom see Can the Community Caretaking Doctrine Permit Law Enforcement to Cross the Threshold of a Residence?.
  2. How is Caniglia v. Strom distinguishable from this incident? What distinguishes the legal prohibition of the Community Caretaking Doctrine in Strom from the actions of Deputy Riege in this case?  The Fourth District distinguished the two “But under the totality-of-the-circumstances here, Mr. Pine physically assaulted Chelsea, is on disability, was in possession of a loaded AR-15 firearm, hid the loaded firearm under the unfenced trailer, the firearm was unsecured, and within 100 feet of adults and a minor, who knew it was there, and, according to Mr. Pine, had previously stolen items from him. Thus, in the case at bar, the deputies had probable cause and did not rely on their community-caretaking function as a standalone reason to conduct the warrantless search for the loaded AR-15 firearm that posed an immediate threat of serious consequence of injury.”.  Here the Fourth District determined that the loaded AR 15 needed to be secured to prevent serious injury or death.
  3. Curtilage – Though Deputy Riege discovered the AR 15 in a hole underneath the trailer, this area would be considered Curtilage. So what EXACTLY is curtilage?  Let’s begin with a case law excerpt from 1984 “At common law, the curtilage is the area to which extends the intimate activity associated with the “sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life,” Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 630 (1886), and therefore has been considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes. Thus, courts have extended Fourth Amendment protection to the curtilage; and they have defined the curtilage, as did the common law, by reference to the factors that determine whether an individual reasonably may expect that an area immediately adjacent to the home will remain private.” Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984).  In United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294 (1987) J. White provided four factors to consider in determining Curtilage:

Proximity of the are claimed to be curtilage to the home.

Whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home.

The nature of the uses to which the area is put; and

The steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by the people passing by.

4. How Hard-Headed was Jason Pine? Mr. Pine stated that he retrieved his AR 15 for his protection as the court opined “After the firearm was seized, Mr. Pine was questioned about it, in which he explained that he has it for protection. Normally the weapon would be inside the trailer but he took it outside this time because Martha threatened to get her gun, and he got his AR-15 firearm to hide it.”.  A question that was not analyzed in the case was the mental condition of Mr. Pine in this moment.  At this time M.K. the twelve-year-old daughter of Ms. Chelsea Knisley had struck Mr. Pine in the head twice with a baseball bat.  What was his cognitive state?  Though not addressed, sustaining two wallops to the head with a baseball bat within a short time frame would likely disorient most people.  Because who doesn’t hide a loaded AR 15 in a hole underneath a trailer?

5. Pre-Sent Arms! Deputy Jacob Riege and the other unnamed Ross County deputies who responded and took actions should be highly commended for their actions!  This team worked in concert to complete two arrests and secure a highly dangerous weapon if it was discovered by the wrong person.  Well done!

 

Does your agency train on the Community Caretaking Doctrine and Curtilage?

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Robert H. Meader Esq.