Oral Argument Preview: Can a Law Enforcement Officer Also be a Neutral Magistrate? State v. Jillian Hobbs

On August 29, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio handed down a merit decision in this case.  Read the analysis here.

Read the analysis of the oral argument in this case here.

On May 9, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the case of State v. Jillian Hobbs, nos. 11-1504 and 11-1593. There are two issues in this case. First, do the search and seizure provisions of the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions bar a law enforcement officer from serving a dual role as an officer and deputy clerk of a local municipal court for the purposes of determining probable cause for issuance of a warrant? If yes, what remedies are to be applied for a dual capacity violation?

This case began when a woman reported to patrol officers that someone had broken into her house. Two witnesses saw Appellant Jillian Hobbs enter the victim’s house on the day of the burglary. Two Sheriff’s detectives went to Hobbs’ house to speak with her about the burglary. The detectives told Hobbs that they were investigating a burglary and that witnesses had seen her enter the victim’s home on the date of the burglary.  Hobbs admitted that she had committed the crime.  Hobbes was arrested (without a warrant) and taken to the Sheriff’s office and the Summit County Jail. The detectives typed a complaint for the burglary which was clerked by a deputy sergeant from the Sheriff’s office, who also served as a deputy municipal court clerk. After the complaint was clerked, a warrant then issued for Hobbs. The complaint, an affidavit, and the warrant were filed with the municipal court. Hobbs was indicted several weeks later.

Hobbs filed a motion to suppress and to dismiss the charge on the grounds that a law enforcement officer could not have acted as a neutral and detached magistrate. The trial court found that the arrest warrant was improperly issued, but that the exclusionary rule does not apply to pre-violation conduct—the confession here did not derive from the invalid arrest warrant– so the motion to suppress was denied. The Ninth Appellate District affirmed.

The Supreme Court of Ohio accepted the case on conflict certification and discretionary review and consolidated the cases.  The certified question is “may a law enforcement officer, serving in a dual-role as an officer and deputy clerk of a local municipal court, act as a neutral and detached magistrate for purposes of Crim. R. 4(A)?”  The issue accepted on discretionary review is, if the answer to the certified question is no, is exclusion the remedy?

Hobbs asks for two propositions of law to be adopted by the Supreme Court of Ohio. First, “a law enforcement officer serving a dual-role as an officer and deputy clerk of a local municipal court may not act as a neutral and detached magistrate for purposes of Crim R. 4(A).”  (Hobbs is asking for a “no” answer on the certified conflict question). Crim R. 4(A) says that if it appears from a complaint or an affidavit that there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed, a warrant for the arrest of the defendant shall be issued by a judge, magistrate, clerk of court, or officer of the court designated by the judge. Many courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have held that the party who issues the warrant must be neutral and detached from the situation, and this requirement impicates both separation of powers and due process concerns. Hobbs argues that a preference exists for an impartial judicial officer instead of a more competitively charged police officer from the same office as the officer seeking a probable cause determination when it comes to making the discretionary decisions that authorize arrest warrants. Even if there was no actual conflict of interest in the situation itself, a situation where one officer swears before another officer who decides if probable cause exists to issue an arrest warrant creates an appearance of impropriety that undermines the judicial system.

Should the Supreme Court answer the certified question in the negative,  Hobbs’ second proposition of law address the proper remedy:

            When a warrantless arrest occurred with no showing why a warrant could not first be  obtained by a “bare bones” complaint for an arrest warrant for continued detention and the warrant issued when one officer acted in the dual role of officer and deputy clerk where that dual-role was part of a recurring, systemic practice denying prompt        determinations of probable cause by a neutral and detached magistrate, the             exclusionary rule must apply to all evidence obtained directly or indirectly due to such    policy from the time the policy was implemented as well as apply to bar evidence             directly or indirectly obtained after the particular warrant issue.

In essence, Hobbs’ second proposition argues that since the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter improper police conduct and to preserve judicial integrity, suppression was an appropriate remedy in this case.  Since the improper dual capacity policy had been used by the clerk’s office, the municipal court, and the Sheriff’s office for a long period of time, and has become systemic, all evidence that was obtained during this incident must be excluded, not just the evidence that came after the issuance of the faulty warrant. This will send a message to the Sheriff’s office and the municipal court that their clerking procedure needs to be changed.

Appellee State of Ohio contends that Hobbs’ first proposition of law is without merit because an arrest warrant was not issued pursuant to Crim.R. 4(A).  Hobbs was arrested without a warrant, based upon probable cause developed by the officers who spoke with her at her residence. Once Hobbs confessed her guilt to the officers, the officers had the requisite probable cause necessary with which to arrest her. The State tried to clear up the record at the trial level to reflect that an arrest warrant was never issued for Hobbs, but the trial court never took this action. The State argues that an arrest warrant was neither made nor necessary and the applicable rule of Ohio Criminal Procedure in this situation is 4(E)(2), which says that after a person has been arrested without a warrant, a complaint must be filed which describes the offense for which the individual was arrested. In addition, the State points to O.R.C. 2935.05, which requires that when a person is arrested without a warrant, an affidavit must be filed that describes the offense for which the person was arrested. The complaint and affidavit filed in this case were not for the issuance of an arrest warrant but rather to satisfy obligations the officers owed under Ohio law and rules.  As to the issue of a neutral and detached magistrate, the dual role is appropriate so long as the officer acting in the dual capacities is not involved in that investigation.

As to the second proposition of law, the State argues that there is no evidence on the record showing a pre-existing and systematic pattern of ignoring the requirements of issuing an arrest warrant. Thus, any evidence obtained need not be excluded. The State also argues again that no arrest warrant was issued, so a violation of the requirement for a neutral and detached magistrate to make a probable cause determination before issuing an arrest warrant did not occur.

Student Contributor: Jason Persinger

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