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State of Ohio v. Taylor James Archer

September 29, 2011


Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court, Case No. 09 CR 080.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: DeGenaro, J.

Cite as State v. Archer,



JUDGES: Hon. Mary DeGenaro Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Joseph J. Vukovich


Reversed and Remanded. Conviction Vacated.

{¶1} Defendant-Appellant Taylor James Archer, IV appeals the decision of the Belmont County Court of Common Pleas denying his motion to suppress evidence seized from a storage unit on February 7, 2009. On appeal, Archer argues that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they seized evidence without a warrant. Archer's assignment of error is meritorious.

{¶2} The unlawful actions of private individuals in conducting illegal searches and seizures are not subject to constitutional protection. However, where a warrantless search is not exclusively a private undertaking but involves some degree of police participation, courts must look to the facts surrounding the search in order to determine whether it is an unreasonable police search or an excepted private search. Although the Deputy's presence was proper as he was initially observing a private search, because private and police conduct became so entangled, the search lost its private nature, and thus was subject to Fourth Amendment protection. Although the record demonstrates that the Deputy had probable cause to search the unit pursuant to the plain smell doctrine, there were no exigent circumstances justifying a further warrantless search of Archer's storage unit. Thus, the trial court erred in denying Archer's motion to suppress.

Facts and Procedural History

{¶3} On April 1, 2009 Archer was indicted on one count of possession of drugs, R.C. 2925.11(A)(C)(3)(c), a third degree felony, with a R.C. 2925.42 forfeiture specification. The charges stemmed from the search and seizure of $27,000.00 in cash and several bricks of marijuana from a storage space Archer rented. On May 11, 2009 Archer filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized, which was denied. Archer entered a plea of no contest on February 19, 2010 and the trial court sentenced him on March 19, 2010 to twelve months incarceration and five years of community control. The record consists of the exhibits and testimony of Carma and Aubrey Nolan and Deputy Showalter from the suppression hearing.

{¶4} On February 6th, 2009, Archer went to I-70 Self-Storage in St. Clairsville, Ohio to rent a small storage space. Carma, an employee and the mother of the facility's owner, assisted Archer. Carma testified that she found Archer weird or odd, and that Archer spoke at length about break-ins that had occurred at another storage facility, and because he was afraid his things would be stolen he wanted to rent a space at the Nolan's facility. Carma also testified that she mistakenly listed Archer's name on the lease form as 'James Taylor', and that she discovered the mistake after examining his driver's license which contained Archer's correct name. Archer started to say something but then said it was fine, and signed the lease 'Taylor Archer'. Later that day Carma talked to the owner of the storage facility, her son, Aubrey, who was out of state. During this conversation Carma told Aubrey about her encounter with Archer.

{¶5} The next day Carma performed a drive-thru of the units and found that six of the storage units were missing locks. Seeing what she considered evidence of a break- in, Carma called Aubrey to discuss the situation. Aubrey advised Carma to first call the people who rented the six units and then call the Sheriff to report the break-in, as well as to ask for assistance; to observe her cutting off the lock from Archer's unit "and make sure none of this stuff that could have been taken from these other units are in his unit."

{ΒΆ6} Carma testified that she called the Sheriff, and was pulling the files for the six units to call the owners when the Deputy arrived, but had not contacted the owners until after Archer's unit had been opened and the drug task force left. When she discovered the broken locks on the six units, she did not go in them, and had put locks on them right away before the Deputy arrived. At the time Archer's ...

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