Update: On December 6, 2012, the Supreme Court handed down a merit decision in this case. Read the analysis here.
Read the analysis of the oral argument in this case here.
On September 26, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the case of State v. Damaad Gardner, 2011-2134. This case will be argued at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse as part of the Court’s off-site program.
The issue in this case is whether an outstanding arrest warrant deprives the person subject to that warrant of any expectation of privacy, and precludes the exclusion of evidence seized in an unrelated, allegedly unlawful search and seizure, when the police were unaware of the arrest warrant at the time of the later detention.
In March 2010, as part of a unit that patrols high drug areas, Dayton Police Detective David House was patrolling in an unmarked cruiser in an area known for drug activity. He pulled up behind a pick-up truck bearing out-of-county license plates. Because drug dealers were known to come from outside Montgomery County to that particular area to deal drugs, House followed the truck. After running the plates, he determined that the truck was registered to a Clinton County man with a prior drug conviction. He followed the truck to a house, stayed there for fifteen minutes to watch for suspicious activity, and then left. He returned to the house three hours later and found another car in the driveway, registered to a Richard Easter, who had an active arrest warrant on a drug charge. Detective House observed three men emerge from the house and get into the car. Damaad Gardner was one of the passengers.
House followed the car to a gas station, where he approached the driver and determined that he was Easter. After placing Easter under arrest, he saw Gardner moving around inside the car. Concerned for his own safety and concerned that Gardner might flee, House ordered Gardner to step out of the car. House handcuffed Gardner, then patted him down, and found crack cocaine in Gardner’s pockets. House informed Gardner he was placing him under arrest, and then Mirandized him. When other officers later arrived on the scene, they discovered that Gardner had an outstanding traffic warrant for his arrest.
Motion to Suppress
The trial court overruled Gardner’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained from searching him, holding that evidence from an unlawful detention does not need to be suppressed when the accused is then subject to a valid outstanding arrest warrant, even if the arresting officer doesn’t know it at the time. The suspect has no reasonable expectation of privacy, and the exclusionary rule does not apply. Gardner pled no contest to possession of cocaine, and was sentenced to community control.
Court of Appeals Decision
On appeal to the Second District Court of Appeals, Gardner argued that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress because the officer lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify his detention and patdown, and the subsequent discovery of an outstanding arrest warrant did not cure an otherwise illegal search. The Second District Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the case for a determination of whether the police–separately and independently from the later discovered arrest warrant–had a reasonable articulable suspicion for the search and seizure.
The State of Ohio has appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio. It argues that the Second District went against its own precedent established by Dayton v. Click and other cases. Those cases hold that an outstanding arrest warrant operates to deprive its subject of a reasonable expectation of privacy. The state also argues that a warrant based on a finding of probable cause that an offense has been committed imposes a duty upon police officers to arrest a defendant wherever the defendant is found. Thus, the attenuation doctrine does not apply to situations where there is a pre-existing arrest warrant, because this would focus the courts’ attention on whether the officer’s knowledge of the outstanding arrest warrant is an intervening circumstance, rather than focusing on the fact that the individual has no expectation of privacy in the first place after a warrant has been issued. The Fourth Amendment is not implicated when there is an existing arrest warrant.
Gardner argues that he was not stopped and searched by an officer attempting to execute the arrest warrant. He was stopped by an officer looking for drugs in a high crime neighborhood. So, the state’s proposition of law is misleading—it is actually asking the Court to find that there is no right to Fourth Amendment protections where a search and seizure is conducted with no knowledge of the warrant and under circumstances completely divorced from the execution of the warrant. Gardner argues that such a rule would excuse any illegal search whenever it is discovered after the fact that the individual has an outstanding warrant, and would encourage exactly the kind of police misconduct the Fourth Amendment protects against. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the idea that a search can be retroactively validated by what it turns up later.
Gardner also argues that the attenuation doctrine is not an issue in this case, but if it were found to be, under the three-factor test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, there is no attenuation here. He also argues that determination of the legality of a search and seizure requires more than just determining whether a warrant existed. Finally, Gardner argues that individuals subject to outstanding arrest warrants still have expectations of privacy.
State’s Proposed Proposition of Law
When a person is subject to arrest on an outstanding warrant, he or she has no expectation of privacy that would protect him or her from execution of the warrant.
In Dayton v. Click, 1994 Ohio App. LEXIS 4551 (2d Dist.), officers saw people standing around a vehicle in a high crime area, and the people ran when they saw the officers approach. Officers arrested one man who had no identification and gave a false name because he had outstanding arrest warrants. The Second District noted that the evidence did not show any circumstances justifying a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity. However, it found that the unlawfully obtained evidence did not have to be suppressed. The defendant knew that there were outstanding warrants for his arrest, and thus he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his vehicle. The mere fact that the officers were not aware of their duty to arrest him until minutes after the stop did not justify application of the exclusionary rule.
Amicus Brief in support of Gardner
A joint amicus brief was filed in this case in support of Gardner by the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office, and Professor Lewis Katz of Case Western Reserve University. Professor Katz teaches criminal law and procedure, and is the author of Ohio Arrest Search and Seizure.
The amicus brief urges the Court to adopt this proposition of law instead of the one proposed by the state:
The discovery by police that the defendant is the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant, unknown to the police at the time of the seizure, has no effect on whether the seizure of the defendant was legal or illegal, and has no effect on whether evidence obtained prior to the discovery of the warrant was legally or illegally obtained, nor on whether evidence obtained prior to the discovery of the arrest warrant should be suppressed.
Student Contributor: Greg Kendall