Traffic stop by officer outside jurisdiction violates Ohio Constitution, rules Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a trial court should have suppressed drug evidence seized when a township officer stopped a driver on the interstate. The officer did not have the authority to make such a traffic stop under Ohio law. The Court found the traffic stop, the search that located the drugs and the resulting arrest were unreasonable and violated the defendant's constitutional rights.

The case involved a traffic stop by Lake Township officer Kelly Clark, who witnessed a vehicle cross the center line on an interstate highway. During the stop she walked her drug dog around the vehicle, which led to the discovery of oxycodone and marijuana. The state indicted the driver, Terence Brown, for aggravated possession of drugs. At trial, Brown filed a motion to suppress the evidence. The trial court denied it and Brown pleaded no contest to the charges. On appeal, the Sixth District reversed.

It is not disputed that Clark did not have the statutory authority to make the stop, but the state argues that because the officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle, her actions did not violate the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The state asserts that the Ohio Constitution should not be read to provide a greater protection than the 4th Amendment.

The Court affirmed the Sixth District and held that,

Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution affords greater protection than the Fourth Amendment against searches and seizures conducted by members of law enforcement who lack authority to make an arrest. Therefore, a traffic stop for a minor misdemeanor offense made by a township police officer without statutory authority to do so violates Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution.

Justice French penned a dissent in this case, in which Justice Kennedy joined. Justice French argued that the Ohio constitutional language in this case is virtually identical to that in the 4th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and there was no compelling reason for providing broader rights under the Ohio Constitution.

For more information about this case, see this article from Court News Ohio and the online docket, available here.

Photo Credit: Scott Davidson via Wikimedia Commons.