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. One of the men was Easter, another was Damaad Gardner. Gardner sat in the passenger seat.
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, being the only officer on the scene, House ordered Gardner to step out of the car. House handcuffed Gardner, then patted him down, and found an item he recognized by feel as crack cocaine in Gardner’s shorts. House removed the item, and arrested Gardner. Before Gardner was Mirandized, he blurted out something like “he gave it to me to hide.” When other officers later arrived on the scene, they discovered that Gardner had an outstanding traffic warrant for his arrest.
Original Suppression Hearing
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. In doing so, the trial judge relied on Dayton v. Click, 1994 Ohio App. LEXIS 4551 (2d Dist.),an opinion from the Second District Court of Appeals which held that even when there was no showing of any reasonable, articulable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity, unlawfully obtained evidence did not have to be suppressed if the defendant knew that there were outstanding warrants for his arrest, because then the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
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 argued that when a person is subject to arrest on an outstanding warrant, he has no expectation of privacy that would protect him from execution of the warrant—in other words a subsequently discovered valid warrant “cleanses” an earlier bad detention.
Supreme Court Merit Decision
In a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice O’Connor, the Court emphatically rejected the state’s contention that an earlier arrest warrant cleanses a bad detention. Quoting from a federal court decision from Illinois, the Chief wrote, “the Fourth Amendment does not countenance such post hoc rationalization.” The high court also expressly repudiated Dayton v. Click. The court of appeals was affirmed, specifically including its order sending the case back to the trial court for a determination if the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the search and seizure in this case.
What Happened on Remand
Defendant’s Motion to Suppress is Denied
After the case was remanded, the trial court set a submission deadline for all materials for or against the defendant’s motion to suppress. After acknowledging that Dayton was no longer good law, the court denied the motion to suppress on traditional jurisprudential grounds.
The trial judge found that Detective House was the only officer on the scene, in a known high drug activity area, where two unsecured men were involved. One of those men (Gardner) was making furtive gestures in the car. Under those circumstances, handcuffing and patting down Gardner for the officer’s safety was not unreasonable, and was justified under Terry v. Ohio and progeny. Further, the seizure of the crack was justified under the plain-feel doctrine established in Minnesota v. Dickerson.
Additionally, the pre-Miranda exclamation from the defendant about the crack cocaine was not prohibited because the statement was an “unforeseen incriminating response” as opposed to anything uttered in the course of a formal interrogation. Based on the totality of the circumstances as well as the officer’s credibility, the Court overruled the motion to suppress. Read the trial court’s opinion here.
Gardner pled no contest to possession of cocaine, was found guilty, and sentenced to twelve months in prison, to be served concurrently with another offense, plus a six-month driver’s license suspension.
I’ll repeat what I wrote in my analysis of the merit decision:
“…I think Gardner is likely to lose his case on remand, under a straightforward Terry analysis. Still, the Court sent an important message in this case about Fourth Amendment rights (and the state constitutional equivalent at Article I Section 19).”
I really applauded the Court for its repudiation of the state’s argument in this case, and despite the lack of a case syllabus, think the Court made an important point in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.
Student Contributor: Austin LiPuma