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State of Ohio v. Shane Wilson

October 18, 2011


CHARACTER OF PROCEEDING:Appeal from the Licking County Municipal Court, Case No. 10TRC09710 Reversed and Remanded

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

Cite as State v. Wilson,

[Nunc pro tunc opinion. Please see original at 2011-Ohio-4651.]

JUDGES: Hon. William B. Hoffman, P.J. Hon. Sheila G. Farmer, J. Hon. Julie A. Edwards, J.




{¶1} Plaintiff-appellant State of Ohio appeals the February 11, 2011 Judgment Entry entered by the Licking County Municipal Court granting Defendant-appellee Shane Wilson's motion to suppress.


{¶2} On October 10, 2010, officers were dispatched to the scene of an accident on State Route 79. Ohio State Trooper Thaxton testified he responded to a head on crash with severe damage to several vehicles involved in the accident. Approximately four people were transported to the hospital as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.

{¶3} A Chevy Blazer, later determined to belong to Appellee, was found at the scene with extensive damage. Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Thaxton testified there was "quite a bit of blood" on the interior of the driver compartment and on the door pillar. The windshield was broken and there was heavy damage to the left front quarter panel. Appellee was not at the scene of the accident.

{¶4} State Highway Patrol Trooper Shawn Eitel left the scene of the accident and proceeded to Appellee's residential address. Upon arriving at the residence, Trooper Eitel met up with Deputy Dirk Williamson of the Licking County Sheriff's Office.

Prior to Trooper Eitel's arrival, Deputy Williamson made multiple attempts to get someone to come to the door of the residence, but was unsuccessful.

{¶5} Trooper Eitel testified he noticed a key in the door and a sliver of blood on the door handle. Trooper Eitel and Deputy Williamson decided to enter the home to make certain the person involved in the accident did not need medical care. The door to the residence was unlocked with the key in the lock. As the officers opened the door, they announced their presence and called out for Appellee, but no one responded. They eventually found Appellee in a back bedroom, asleep or passed out on the bed. They observed injuries to Appellee's head and arm. Once awake and walking, the officers smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Appellee and observed Appellee had difficulty walking.

{¶6} Subsequently, Appellee was cited for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. On October 26, 2010, Appellee filed a motion to suppress arguing the State failed to demonstrate exigent circumstances justifying the warrantless entry into his home. On January 10, 2011, the trial court denied the motion finding exigent circumstances existed to justify the officers' warrantless entry into the residence.

{¶7} On January 28, 2011, Appellee filed a motion to reconsider. On February 11, 2011, the trial court issued a second entry granting the motion to suppress finding exigent circumstances did not exist to justify the warrantless entry into the home.

{¶8} The State of Ohio now appeals*fn1 , assigning as error:


{¶10} Appellate review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion to suppress involves a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Long (1998), 127 Ohio App.3d 328, 713 N.E.2d 1. During a suppression hearing, the trial court assumes the role of trier of fact and, as such, is in the best position to resolve questions of fact and to evaluate witness credibility. State v. Brooks, (1996), 75 Ohio St.3d 148, 661 N.E.2d 1030. A reviewing court is bound to accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence. State v. Metcalf (1996), 111 Ohio App.3d 142, 675 N.E.2d 1268. Accepting these facts as true, the appellate court must independently determine as a matter of law, without deference to the trial court's conclusion, whether the trial court's decision meets the applicable legal standard. State v. Williams (1993), 86 Ohio App.3d 37, 619 N.E.2d 1141.

{¶11} There are three methods of challenging a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress on appeal. First, an appellant may challenge the trial court's finding of fact. In reviewing a challenge of this nature, an appellate court must determine whether the trial court's findings of fact are against the manifest weight of the evidence. See State v. Fanning (1982), 1 Ohio St.3d 19, 1 Ohio B. 57, 437 N.E.2d 583; and State v. Klein (1991), 73 Ohio App.3d 486, 597 N.E.2d 1141. Second, an appellant may argue that the trial court failed to apply the appropriate test or correct law to the findings of fact. In that case, an appellate court can reverse the trial court for committing an error of law. See certification required by the rule. Upon review, the record reflects the State filed the Certification of the Prosecuting Attorney on February 18, 2011, in the trial court docket.

{¶12} This Court recently addressed the issue raised herein in State v. Bethel Tuscarawas App. No. 10-AP-35, 2011-Ohio-3020, holding:

{¶13} "The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees each citizen a right to be free from unreasonable governmental intrusions. Specifically, it states:

{¶14} "'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'

{¶15} "'The Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures has always been interpreted to prevent a search that is not limited to the particularly described 'place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,' U.S. Const., Amend. IV, even if the search is made pursuant to a warrant and based upon probable cause." Florida v. Royer (1983), 460 U .S. 491, 499, 103 S.Ct. 1319.

{¶16} "The predicate for permitting seizures on suspicion short of probable cause 'is that law enforcement interests warrant a limited intrusion on the personal security of the suspect. The scope of the intrusion permitted will vary to some extent

with the particular facts and circumstances of each case. This much, however, is clear: an investigative detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. Similarly, the investigative methods employed should be the least intrusive means reasonably available to verify or dispel the officer's suspicion in a short period of time.' Id., at 500, citing, e.g., United States v. Brignoni- Ponce, 422 U.S., at 881-882, 95 S.Ct., at 2580-2581; Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S., at 146, 92 S.Ct., at 1923.

{¶17} "It is the State's burden to demonstrate that the seizure it seeks to justify was sufficiently limited in scope and duration to satisfy the conditions of an investigative seizure.

{¶18} "* * *

{¶19} "An exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment involves exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances are synonymous with an emergency, whether it is actual or ongoing. Mincey v. Arizona (1978), 437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290. In State v. Hyde (1971), 26 Ohio App.2d 32, 34, 268 N.E.2d 820, the Ninth District Court of Appeals explained the following:

{¶20} " 'The right of the police to enter and investigate in an emergency without accompanying intent to either search or arrest is inherent in the very nature of their duties as peace officers. * * *.' United States v. Barone (C.C.A.2), 330 F.2d 543, at 545.

{ΒΆ21} "'Breaking into a home by force is not illegal if it is reasonable in the circumstances.' 'The need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent exigency or emergency.' State v. Burgess (Nov. 4, 1999), 5th Dist No. 99-CA-0035, quoting Wayne v. United States ...

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