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State v. Jennings

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

June 27, 2013

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Rommel E. Jennings, Defendant-Appellee.

APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas No. 09CR-11-6683.

Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Steven L. Taylor, for appellant.

Cecily L. Ferris, for appellee.

DECISION

BROWN, J.

{¶1} The State of Ohio, plaintiff-appellant, appeals from a judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, in which the court granted the motion to suppress evidence filed by Rommel E. Jennings, defendant-appellee.

{¶2} At one o'clock in the morning on August 6, 2009, Officer Ryan Steele of the Columbus Police Department was patrolling an area as part of a summer gang initiative. Officer Steele saw a vehicle at an apartment complex with its hood up, and appellee was standing near the vehicle. Another person was also standing near the vehicle. Upon seeing the police cruiser, appellee displayed a panicked look, walked to the vehicle, and made a tossing or reaching gesture toward the open hood. Officer Steele drove his cruiser into the parking lot, approached appellee and the vehicle, and asked appellee to sit on the sidewalk and talk to him. Appellee attempted to shut the hood of the car. Officer Steele stopped him from doing so once, but then appellee succeeded in shutting the hood on his second effort. Appellee then sat down on the sidewalk. Officer Steele opened the hood and found a crack pipe and bag of crack cocaine in the engine compartment. Officer Steele then arrested appellee.

{¶3} Appellee was charged with possession of cocaine, which is a fifth-degree felony. On August 11, 2011, appellee filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing the cocaine was illegally seized. The court held an evidentiary hearing on January 18, 2012. On February 22, 2012, the trial court entered a decision and entry granting appellee's motion to suppress evidence. The state appeals the judgment of the trial court, asserting the following assignments of error:

[I.] THE TRIAL COURT ERRED AND ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN MAKING VARIOUS MISSTATEMENTS ABOUT THE LEGAL POSITION TAKEN BY THE PROSECUTION AND POLICE.
[II.] THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO RULE ON THE QUESTION OF WHETHER DEFENDANT HELD A REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY IN THE AREA SEARCHED.
[III.] THE TRIAL COURT ERRED AND ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN FINDING THAT A DETENTION OCCURRED, THAT THE DETENTION WAS UNSUPPORTED BY REASONABLE SUSPICION, AND THAT THE UNLAWFUL DETENTION JUSTIFIED SUPPRESSION.
[IV.] THE TRIAL COURT ERRED AND ABUSED ITS DISCRETION WHEN IT FAILED TO FULLY ADDRESS OR APPLY THE GOOD-FAITH EXCEPTION TO THE FEDERAL EXCLUSIONARY RULE.

{¶4} We will address the state's third assignment of error first. The state argues in its third assignment of error that the trial court erred when it found that the detention was unsupported by reasonable suspicion and that the unlawful detention justified suppression. An appellate review of a ruling on a motion to suppress evidence presents mixed questions of law and fact. State v. Long, 127 Ohio App.3d 328, 332 (4th Dist.1998). During a suppression hearing, the trial court assumes the role of the trier of fact and is, therefore, in the best position to resolve questions of fact and evaluate witness credibility. State v. Mills, 62 Ohio St.3d 357, 366 (1992); State v. Hopfer, 112 Ohio App.3d 521, 548 (2d Dist.1996). As a result, an appellate court must accept a trial court's factual findings if they are supported by competent and credible evidence. State v. Guysinger, 86 Ohio App.3d 592, 594 (4th Dist.1993). The reviewing court must then review the trial court's application of the law de novo. State v. Russell, 127 Ohio App.3d 414, 416 (9th Dist.1998).

{¶5} In the present case, the trial court addressed the application of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits warrantless searches and seizures, rendering them per se unreasonable unless an exception applies. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). One exception is an investigative stop. Terry at 20. A police officer may make a brief, warrantless, investigatory stop of a person where the officer reasonably suspects that the individual is or has been involved in criminal activity. Id. at 21. In reaching that conclusion, the officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts that, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion. State v. Andrews, 57 Ohio St.3d 86, 87 (1991), citing Terry. Whether an investigatory stop is reasonable depends upon the totality of the circumstances surrounding the incident. State v. Williams, 51 Ohio St.3d 58, 60 (1990). A court evaluating the validity of a Terry stop must consider the totality of the circumstances as "viewed through the eyes of the reasonable and prudent police officer on the scene who must react to events as they unfold." Andrews at 87-88. "Reasonable suspicion entails some minimal level of objective justification for making a stop-that is, something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch, ' but less than the level of suspicion required for probable cause." State v. Jones, 70 Ohio App.3d 554, 556-57 (2d Dist.1990), citing Terry at 27. The officer may ask the detainee a moderate number of questions to determine his identity and to try to obtain information confirming or dispelling the officer's suspicions. Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439 (1984).

{¶6} Here, the trial court concluded Officer Steele had no reasonable, articulable suspicion. The court found there was no evidence presented that demonstrated the officer believed criminal activity was afoot. The court also found that the only rationale the officer provided was that he had received numerous complaints regarding criminal activity in the area, he had made numerous arrests based on tips about criminal activity, the car next to appellee had its hood up, and appellee had a ...


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