Stop For Minor Offense Outside Officer’s Jurisdiction Is Unlawful

Officer holding cell phoneSuppose you are driving around Columbus on I-270 and an officer pulls you over for speeding. The officer gets out of his cruiser and walks up to your car. When the officer reaches your window, you see on his uniform he is from the Cincinnati Police Department. ‘That’s odd’, you think, ‘why is an officer from Cincinnati making a traffic stop in Columbus?’ Good question. A better question is this: does that traffic stop violate your Constitutional rights?

An officer from the Cincinnati Police Department does not have statutory authority to make a traffic stop for a minor misdemeanor in Columbus. According to Ohio statutory law, an officer only has such authority within the geographic boundaries of the political subdivision employing the officer. Therefore, the Cincinnati officer’s stop for a minor traffic offense in Columbus violates Ohio law. The question still remains whether the officer’s violation of the law is also a violation of the driver’s Constitutional rights.

The answer is ‘yes’, according to the Ohio Supreme Court. In a decision released a few days ago, the Court held a traffic stop for a minor misdemeanor offense made without statutory authority to do so violates Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution. While the stop may not violate the United States Constitution, it violates the Ohio Constitution.

The case is State v. Brown. In Brown, the officer was from a small township police department, and the officer stopped Brown for a minor misdemeanor traffic offense (marked lanes) on the freeway. The officer ran her drug dog around Brown’s car, and the dog alerted. The officer searched the car and seized marijuana and oxycodone tablets. Brown was charged with felony drug possession and filed a motion to dismiss the seized evidence, arguing the stop was unlawful.

The stop was unlawful. Officers from small townships in Ohio do not have statutory authority to make traffic stops on freeways, even if the freeway is within the township. In fact, the prosecution and defense agreed the officer did not have authority to make the stop, but the parties disagreed on whether the unlawful stop is a Constitutional violation.

In concluding the unlawful stop is a violation of the Ohio Constitution, the Ohio Supreme Court reviewed preceding Ohio cases addressing related issues. In 2003, the Court held in State v. Brown (what a coincidence) when officers lack statutory authority to arrest (for a minor misdemeanor), the arrest is a violation of the Ohio Constitution. In 2009, however, the case of State v. Jones held a traffic stop outside an officer’s statutory jurisdiction is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment so long as the stop is founded upon probable cause.

While Jones said an extraterritorial stop is not a violation of the federal Constitution, Jones did not address the Ohio Constitution. Brown 2015 does. In Brown, the Ohio Supreme Court reasoned, “[t]he Ohio Constitution is a document of independent force”, and “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”, the court held, “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.”

This case may be significant in the litigation of Ohio DUI/OVI cases. As the extraterritorial stop is now considered a Constitutional violation, the exclusionary rule applies. If a traffic stop leading to a DUI/OVI arrest was made outside the officer’s jurisdiction, all evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful stop will be suppressed, including the results of any field sobriety tests, as well as evidence regarding blood/breath/urine tests.

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