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Case Law Update
Mar 11, 2019

Case Law Update
By:  Joseph Hegedus, Esq.

I recently reviewed two cases decided this summer by Federal and State Courts with jurisdiction in Ohio that I found to be informative and somewhat interesting.

The first case was decided by the Ohio Supreme Court on June 23, 2015, and is likely only relevant to a very specific segment of our membership.

This case, State of Ohio v. Brown, 2015-Ohio-2438 (2015), concerned a Motion to Suppress evidence that was granted by the Sixth District Court of Appeals after having been denied previously by the trial court.

Specifically, the facts of the case detailed that a township police officer made a traffic stop on an interstate highway for a marked lane violation.

After the officer walked her canine around the stopped vehicle, she discovered 120 oxycodone tablets and a bag of marijuana.

The driver was indicted for aggravated possession of drugs.  The trial court denied the driver’s Motion to Suppress finding that the police officer had probable cause to stop the driver for the marked lane violation.  The driver subsequently pled no contest and was sentenced to a mandatory three years in prison.

On appeal, the driver asserted that because the township police officer lacked statutory authority to stop him on an interstate highway, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code (“R.C.”), Section 4513.39(A), the stop and the subsequent arrest and search were illegal under the federal and state constitutions.

The Appeals Court held that the stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but, the court found that the stop was unreasonable and violated the Ohio Constitution because the marked lane violation occurred outside the officer’s jurisdiction and there were no extenuating circumstances that would have permitted the officer to engage in the stop. As a result, the Appeals Court suppressed the drug evidence and reversed the conviction.

The Ohio Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction of the case to decide the issue of “whether a traffic stop made without statutory jurisdiction or authority violates the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures afforded by Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution.”

The Ohio Supreme Court then affirmed the Court of Appeals by concluding:

A traffic stop for a minor misdemeanor made outside a police officer’s statutory jurisdiction or authority violates the guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures established by Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution.   Here, the appellate court correctly determined that the township police officer lacked authority to enforce a marked lane violation on an interstate highway and that the traffic stop and ensuing search of the vehicle were unreasonable, and it properly ordered suppression of the evidence obtained from that search.

The second case of interest was decided by the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 1, 2015.

This case, Rudlaff v. Gillispie, No. 14-1712 (recommended for full-text publication) (6th Cir. 2015), concerns a lawsuit alleging excessive use of force by two police officers during an arrest that was completely captured by the dash-cam videos of both officers.

Before getting to the facts of the case, it is important to note that the Court changed its standard for reviewing the facts in this type of case, due to the reality that the entire incident was captured on video.

Specifically, in summary judgment appeals involving qualified immunity, the Court typically views the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff.  In this case, however, the Court asserted that “where the police dash-cam video[s]. . . depict all of the genuinely disputed facts,” [citation omitted], we “view the facts in the light depicted by the videotape[s].”  [Citation omitted].[1]

The facts, as recorded on video, demonstrate that the Plaintiff was stopped by an officer on routine patrol who recognized him and knew from three previous encounters that the Plaintiff was driving with a suspended license.  Moreover, the Plaintiff had fled from the same officer during their last encounter and had a history of driving while intoxicated, as well as resisting arrest.

The officer initiated a traffic stop and called for back-up.  Upon arrival of his back-up, the officer approached the Plaintiff who appeared “highly agitated” and cussed at the officer upon exiting his vehicle.  The Plaintiff was non-compliant, refused to be handcuffed and was eventually tased after a knee strike was ineffective in gaining Plaintiff’s cooperation.

The Plaintiff sued the officers claiming that they used excessive force during the arrest.

The officers raised the defense of qualified immunity in the trial court, but, their Motion for Summary Judgment was denied by the district court for the reason that “disputed issues of material fact” were in existence.

The Appeals Court reversed the Court below and found in favor of the officers, concerning the issue of qualified immunity, indicating both that the “officers did not violate” Plaintiff’s “constitutional rights when they used force to subdue him” and that there was no clearly established constitutional violation committed by the officers, by stating as follows:

Carpenter conceded that he resisted arrest.  The videos show the same.  And the law says that when someone resists arrest, the police may constitutionally use force to ensure their compliance.  A jury has nothing left to decide.  Because the officers acted constitutionally – and because even if they didn’t, by all accounts they didn’t clearly act unconstitutionally – they are protected by qualified immunity.  We reverse.

While the result of this case is obviously significant, especially to the two officers involved, it is further compelling that the Sixth Circuit has slightly altered its standard for reviewing the facts, in this type of case, in light of the evolving and prevalent utilization of technology such as the dash-cam videos employed by the officers here.

[1] This is obviously significant as so many of your encounters with suspects are either recorded now or likely will be at some point in the future.

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