Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Ohio Court of Appeals: Continued Detention for Traffic Stop Was Unlawful

When an officer pulls-over a motorist for a traffic violation, the officer typically does not have a search warrant or arrest warrant.  However, a warrant is not necessary if the stop is based on one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement.  One exception is when an officer has probable cause to believe a driver committed a traffic violation.  But what if the officer’s belief regarding the traffic violation turns-out to be incorrect?  That situation was recently addressed in a case decided by an Ohio Court of Appeals.

Justification to Detain for a Traffic Violation
The case is State v. Kancler.  Kancler was pulled-over by a police officer because the officer observed that one of Kancler’s headlights was not illuminated.  The officer told Kancler the reason for the stop, and Kancler expressed surprise.  The officer walked to the front of Kancler’s vehicle and observed one of the headlights was dull, but both were illuminated.  The officer’s body worn camera video showed both lights were illuminated.  The officer told Kancler he would receive a warning.

The officer then arranged for a canine sniff of Kancler’s vehicle.  A dog sniffed the exterior of Kancler’s vehicle and gave a positive alert for drugs.  The officer searched Kancler’s vehicle and found a bag which contained crack cocaine.  Kancler was prosecuted for Drug Possession.

Kancler filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from his vehicle.  He claimed the officer did not have a justification to continue the traffic stop after the officer saw both headlights were illuminated.  The judge overruled the motion, and Kancler appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Justification for Continued Detention
The appellate court concluded the officer’s initial traffic stop was valid because the officer reasonably suspected a traffic violation occurred.  However, the court noted, the inquiry did not end there.  The Court further inquired whether an officer’s reasonable suspicion terminates when the officer recognizes the grounds for the traffic stop are no longer valid.

The appellate court cited State v. Chatton.  In that case, an officer stopped Chatton for failing to display a license plate.  As the officer approached the vehicle, the officer observed a temporary license plate directly below the rear window.  The Ohio Supreme Court held the officer no longer had a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle failed to display a license plate when the officer viewed the temporary plate.  Therefore, the officer had no continuing justification to request the motorist’s driver’s license or to detain him further.

The Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion in Kancler.  The Court stated, “Officer Davis’s reasonable suspicion and probable cause ceased upon his examination of the functioning headlight. At the time Officer Davis observed Kancler’s headlights were operating, the basis for the traffic stop was over.”

This Decision is Applicable to DUI/OVI Cases
In DUI cases (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio), an officer’s investigation usually begins with a traffic stop.  Many of those traffic stops are based on minor traffic violations.  If the officer then observes signs the driver may be under the influence the officer administers field sobriety tests and requests a breath, blood, or urine test.  However, if the officer’s justification for the initial traffic stop turns-out to be mistaken, the detention of the motorist to perform testing is unlawful.  If the detention is unlawful, all evidence obtained after the detention is inadmissible in court, including the field sobriety tests and breath/blood/urine test.

About the Author:  Shawn Dominy is a leading OVI lawyer in Ohio and the founder of the Dominy Law Firm in Columbus, Ohio.  He can be reached through his law firm’s website:  Dominy Law Firm.

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Shawn Dominy

Shawn Dominy

Shawn Dominy is a DUI/OVI lawyer in Columbus, Ohio. He is the former President of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the state delegate to the National College for DUI Defense and a long-time member of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers. Shawn Dominy authored the books 'Ohio DUI/OVI Guide', 'Ohio Vehicular Homicide Guide', and 'Ohio Vehicular Assault Guide' (Rivers Edge Publishing) and wrote a chapter in the book 'Defending Vehicular Homicide Cases' (Aspatore Publishing, 2012). He has several other published articles, and he speaks regularly at seminars teaching other lawyers about DUI/OVI. Shawn was named by SuperLawyers® as one of the top 50 lawyers in Columbus, Ohio, and he is listed as one of the 'Best Lawyers in America'® for DUI Defense. Shawn is a lifelong resident of central Ohio: he graduated from Olentangy High School and earned his bachelor’s degree and juris doctor from The Ohio State University. His office is in Columbus, and he lives in Powell with his wife and daughter. He serves with local community organizations, volunteers regularly at his church, and plays regularly with his German Shepherd. For more information, Shawn’s website is www.dominylaw.com, his blog is www.columbusoviattorneyblog.com,

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