Articles Tagged with traffic stops in DUI/OVI cases

Suppose 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?

Officer holding cell phoneAn 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.

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Imagine you are driving home on a central Ohio freeway after a late dinner and you are pulled over by a police officer. The officer says you were stopped for failing to use your turn signal when you changed lanes. The officer announces he smells the odor of alcohol and asks if you have been drinking. You did have a glass of wine with dinner. The officer then asks you to get out of the car for some field sobriety tests to “make sure you’re okay to drive”. Under what circumstances is the officer justified in doing this?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-traffic-stop-sobriety-test-image5432615

This entry is a follow-up to the last entry in this blog, which discussed the case of Rodriguez v. United States.  Rodriguez involved a motorist stopped for a minor traffic violation and detained for a drug dog to arrive. The United States Supreme Court concluded the duration of the stop must not exceed the time necessary to address the traffic violation. The rule clarified in the Rodriguez case is this: any further detention is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the motorist is violating the law.

The rule clarified in Rodriguez is followed in Ohio DUI/OVI cases. If an officer stops a driver for a traffic violation, further detention of the driver for field sobriety testing is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the driver is under the influence. The issue often litigated is what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion”.

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If an officer’s testimony about a traffic stop is not corroborated by the officer’s cruiser video, how do judges rule on the justification for a traffic stop? Once a judge makes a ruling, under what circumstances might that ruling be overturned by an appellate court?  A recent case decided by the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Columbus, Ohio illustrates the discretion judges are given regarding evidentiary issues in OVI motion hearings.

The case of State v. Comer was decided in December of 2014. In Comer, the defendant was charged with OVI and filed a motion to suppress evidence. The motion claimed all evidence obtained after the stop of the defendant’s vehicle should be suppressed because the traffic stop was unconstitutional. At the motion hearing, the officer testified she observed the defendant’s vehicle “weaving and crossing the lines” and “almost hit the concrete divider”.

Video camera in cruiser

The video from the officer’s cruiser did not clearly show the defendant’s vehicle crossing the lane line. The defendant argued the video undermined the credibility of the officer, so the judge should find there was no marked lanes violation and therefore no justification for the stop. The prosecution argued the video was inconclusive regarding the marked lanes violation (due to the glare from streetlights and the distance between the cruiser and the defendant’s vehicle), and the officer’s testimony alone was sufficient evidence the defendant crossed the lane line.

 

The trial judge found, based on the officer’s testimony, there was a marked lanes violation justifying the traffic stop. The defendant plead No Contest and appealed the trial court’s decision to the Tenth District Court of Appeals.

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