Articles Tagged with Fourth Amendment

Fourth amendment law does not lend itself to mathematical formulas. Rather than using equations to decide Constitutional issues, courts look at the totality of the circumstances and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of whether an officer had probable cause to justify an arrest. However, one theorem illustrated by a recent Ohio OVI case is this: clues on Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) does not equal Probable Cause (PC).

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The case is State v. Kopp. An officer observed the rear license plate was not functioning on Kopp’s vehicle. The officer ran the vehicle’s license plate, which he could read even without the license plate light, and learned the owner of the vehicle had an expired driver license from the state of Ohio. The officer stopped the vehicle. Before stopping the vehicle, the officer had not observed any evidence the driver may be under the influence.

After stopping the vehicle, the officer learned the driver, Kopp, had a valid driver license from the state of Georgia. During the stop, the officer observed the odor of fresh marijuana, as well as the odor of alcohol, and Kopp admitted to smoking marijuana. The officer also noted Kopp’s eyes were very glassy and somewhat bloodshot. The officer asked Kopp to get out of the vehicle for field sobriety testing.

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In Ohio, and throughout the United States, we have a Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  In Ohio OVI cases, that means an officer can only arrest a suspect if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect operated a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.  In the recent case of State v. Bracken, the Court of Appeals concluded the arrest was not justified.

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The Officer Reportedly Observed Signs Of Intoxication
In the early morning hours, a police officer stopped Cody Bracken for driving 61 mph in a 45 mph zone.  The officer noticed a moderate odor of alcohol coming from Cody’s vehicle.  The officer also noticed Cody’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and his face was flushed.  The officer asked Cody about drinking alcohol, and Cody said he drank two beers.

Based on the officer’s observations, he administered field sobriety tests.  On the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the officer reportedly observed six clues out of six possible clues.  On the Walk And Turn (WAT) test, the officer allegedly observed five out of eight possible clues.  On the One Leg Stand (OLS) test, the officer purportedly observed three of four possible clues.  On the partial alphabet test, Cody skipped a letter.  The officer arrested Cody and charged him with OVI ‘impaired’ in the Franklin County Municipal Court.

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At some point, the exception becomes the rule.  To discourage police from violating individual rights, we developed the exclusionary rule.  If evidence is obtained as a result of an unreasonable search or seizure, or other Constitutional violation, the evidence is excluded from trial.  That’s the general rule.  Courts, however, have created exceptions to this rule.  One exception to the exclusionary rule was the subject of a recent case before the United States Supreme Court.  The outcome of that case could affect DUI/OVI cases in Ohio.

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The case is Utah v. Strieff.  Edward Strieff walked out of a residence in Salt Lake City and was stopped by a narcotics detective.  The detective had been conducting intermittent surveillance on the residence and suspected the occupants were dealing drugs there.  Strieff was not an occupant.  At the time he stopped Strieff, the detective had not seen Strieff engage in any activity resembling a drug deal, and the detective did not know how long Strieff had been in the residence.  Nevertheless the detective stopped Strieff and obtained his identification.

The detective ran a check on Strieff and learned there was a warrant for Strieff’s arrest for a minor traffic offense.  The detective arrested Strieff and conducted a search of Strieff’s person incident to the arrest.  During the search, the detective found methamphetamine in Strieff’s pocket.  Strieff was charged with drug possession, and he filed a motion to suppress the evidence based on the illegal stop.  The trial court overruled Strieff’s motion, and the case was ultimately appealed through the Utah state courts to the United States Supreme Court.

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Last week, the United States Supreme Court released a decision in a trio of cases involving DUI refusal laws.  A previous article in this blog gives a preview of the cases.  To decide the outcomes of those cases, the court analyzes whether search warrants are required before law enforcement officers can administer breath tests and blood tests.  Based on that analysis, the Court decides whether states can make it illegal to refuse chemical tests in DUI cases.  The Court’s decision will impact Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

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After considering 13 cases involving criminal refusal laws, the Court chose these three cases:  Beylund v. Levi, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Birchfield v. North Dakota.  These three cases were apparently chosen because they have three varying scenarios.  Beylund claimed his consent to a blood test was coerced because he was told he would be punished for refusing the test.  Bernard challenged his conviction for refusing a breath test.  Birchfield argued his conviction for refusing a blood test was unconstitutional.  The Court issued one opinion for all three cases under the caption of Birchfield v. North Dakota.

The Birchfield opinion analyzes the Fourth Amendment issues.  The Court confirms that both breath tests and blood tests are ‘searches’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  Fourth Amendment law presumes a warrantless search is unreasonable.  Accordingly, for a law enforcement officer to administer a blood test or a breath test, there must be a search warrant or a recognized exception to the search warrant requirement.

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Suppose a police officer comes to your home tonight without a warrant and wants you to consent to a search of your residence. If you are like most people, you would say ‘no’: you would assert your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Now suppose the government makes it a crime for you to refuse to consent to the search. That’s what Ohio and several other states have done with DUI laws which criminalize refusing a breath/blood/urine test. Those laws are the subject of cases currently before the United States Supreme Court.

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The cases are Birchfield v. North Dakota, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Beylund v. Levi. In those cases, state laws make it a criminal offense for a motorist arrested for driving under the influence to refuse to consent to a chemical test of the motorist’s blood, breath or urine. Motorists convicted of those laws appealed their convictions to the Supreme Courts of North Dakota and Minnesota, claiming the refusal laws are unconstitutional. In each case, the state supreme court upheld the constitutionality of the law. In each case, the defendant appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court held oral arguments for these cases on April 20, 2016.

 

Ohio has a law similar to the laws which are the subject of the Supreme Court cases. Ohio’s law (R.C. 4511.19[A][2]) makes it illegal to refuse a breath/blood/urine test for a person who is arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) and has a prior OVI conviction within the last 20 years. The punishment for this offense includes a minimum mandatory jail sentence which is double the minimum mandatory jail sentence for OVI. Although Ohio’s law is slightly different –it has the added element of a prior conviction – it has the same unconstitutional flaw as the laws in North Dakota and Minnesota.

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If a police officer stops you for a minor traffic violation, how long should the officer be permitted to detain you? Suppose the officer issues you a ticket or a warning for the minor traffic violation and then says he wants you to wait while he has a drug dog sniff your car? What do you say? If you say no, can the officer do it anyway?

These are the questions answered by the United States Supreme Court in the recent case of Rodriguez v. United States. Rodriguez was driving on a Nebraska road when he was stopped by Officer Struble for drifting onto the shoulder of the road for a couple seconds. Officer Struble checked the driver’s license of Rodriguez, then checked the driver’s license of his passenger, then issued a warning for the minor traffic offense. After issuing the warning, Officer Struble asked Rodriguez for permission to walk the police dog around the vehicle. Rodriguez declined.

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This is no police drug dog, it’s my dog Rex. He could be a police dog…if he weren’t so spoiled.

Officer Struble further detained Rodriguez until a backup officer arrived. Struble then walked his K-9 around the vehicle of Rodriquez, and the dog alerted the presence of drugs in the vehicle. This occurred approximately seven or eight minutes after the officer issued the warning for the traffic violation. The officers searched the vehicle and found methamphetamine. Rodriguez’ motion to suppress that evidence was overruled by the trial court, and the trial court’s decision was upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Rodriguez appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

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Suppose an officer detains a person for violating a traffic law and it turns out the person really didn’t violate the law: the officer was simply mistaken about what the law says. Until recently, one would expect that any evidence obtained after the mistaken detention would be thrown out. In a recent case, however, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded any evidence obtained after the officer mistakenly detained the person is not excluded from trial, so long as the officer’s mistaken belief about the law was reasonable.

The case is Heien v. North Carolina. A police officer was watching traffic on a road in North Carolina when the officer observed Heien’s Ford Escort pass by. The car was being driven by Maynor Javier Vasquez, and Heien was a passenger. The driver was not driving recklessly, was not speeding, and was not violating the law in any way. The officer followed the car because the driver looked “very stiff and nervous”, then stopped the car for what the officer believed was a brake light violation. The car only had one working brake light, and the officer did not know that North Carolina law only requires one working brake light.

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As the officer was issuing a warning ticket for the broken brake light, the officer became suspicious because the driver and passenger gave inconsistent answers to his questions regarding their destination. The officer asked Heien if the officer could search the vehicle. Heien consented. The officer found cocaine in the vehicle, and Heien was ultimately charged with and convicted of Attempted Drug Trafficking.

Heien’s conviction was reversed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, but that decision was reversed by the North Carolina Supreme Court. Heien appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case to answer this question: can an officer’s mistake of law give rise to the reasonable suspicion necessary to uphold the seizure under the Fourth Amendment?

The U.S. Supreme Court answers that question in the affirmative. In an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court concludes that, if an officer stops a vehicle based on the officer’s mistake of law, and if that mistake is reasonable, the stop is justified under the Fourth Amendment. The Court reasons that people, including law enforcement officers, make mistakes, and an officer’s mistaken belief should only result in evidence being excluded if the officer’s mistaken belief was unreasonable. The Court supports this reasoning with citations to cases from the 1800s. Those cases did not involve the scope of the Fourth Amendment, and the Court’s opinion admits the cases are not on-point. The Court also compares officers’ mistakes of law with officers’ mistakes of fact. There are cases holding a detention may be justified even if an officer made a mistake of fact.

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