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State v. Caulfield

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District

July 12, 2013

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellant
MICHELLE CAULFIELD, Defendant-Appellee

(Criminal Appeal from (Common Pleas Court) Trial Court Case No. 2012-CR-1684.

MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by R. LYNN NOTHSTINE, Atty. Reg. #0061560, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Montgomery County Courts Building, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellant.

VICTOR A. HODGE, Atty. Reg. No. 0007298, Assistant Public Defender, Law Office of the Public Defender, Attorney for Defendant-Appellee.



{¶ 1} Plaintiff-Appellant, the State of Ohio, appeals from the trial court's decision granting a motion to suppress evidence filed by Defendant-Appellee, Michelle Caulfield. The evidence at issue was discovered as a result of a deputy searching Caulfield's purse while she was a passenger in a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation. The driver of the vehicle was subsequently arrested due to an outstanding warrant.

{¶ 2} The State contends that the evidence obtained as a result of searching Caulfield's purse should not have been suppressed because the search and seizure of the purse was reasonable for officer safety. The State also contends that the search was conducted pursuant to Caulfield's consent.

{¶ 3} In response, Caulfield claims that the evidence was correctly suppressed because the deputy illegally detained her after the driver's arrest. Caulfield also claims that the deputy did not have credible grounds to search her purse.

{¶ 4} We conclude that Caulfield's detention was lawful, but that the suppression decision must still be sustained. The trial court's findings indicate that Caulfield did not consent to have her purse searched by the deputy, and the record indicates that: (1) the deputy did not have reasonable grounds to believe that there was contraband in the vehicle relating to the arrest; (2) the arrested driver was not within the vicinity of the vehicle at the time of the search justifying a search incident to arrest; (3) there is no evidence that any contraband was discovered in the vehicle prior to the search of Caulfield's purse; and (4) the driver's consent to search the vehicle did not extend to Caulfield's purse. Under these circumstances, the search of Caulfield's purse was unreasonable and in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.

I. Facts and Course of Proceedings

{¶ 5} At 1:40 a.m. on January 20, 2012, Michelle Caulfield was riding as a front-seat passenger in a vehicle traveling on Far Hills Avenue in Centerville, Ohio. Deputy Lawrence Tyree of the Montgomery County Sheriffs Department observed that the license plate of the vehicle carrying Caulfield was completely obstructed by snow. As a result, Tyree initiated a traffic stop for purposes of issuing a citation. During the traffic stop, Tyree obtained identification from the driver and Caulfield, and ran their information through the LEADS system. The system indicated that the driver was under suspension, that he had a prior drug suspension, and that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. No information was returned on Caulfield.

{¶ 6} Upon learning that the driver had an active warrant, Tyree called for a back-up officer to assist him. Deputy Matthew Wright of the Montgomery County Sheriffs Office arrived on the scene a few minutes later. Tyree then arrested the driver pursuant to the warrant, and the driver gave consent for the deputies to search his vehicle. Tyree took the driver to his police cruiser while Wright approached Caulfield, who was sitting in the front-passenger seat. Wright asked Caulfield to exit the vehicle so that he could conduct a search. The trial court found that Caulfield attempted to take her purse with her as she exited the vehicle, but Wright ordered her to leave it in the vehicle. Wright also ordered Caulfield to stand in front of the vehicle.

{¶ 7} Wright testified that he had no reason to believe that Caulfield had committed a crime, but that he detained her as a "necessary corollary of a traffic stop." Transcript, p. 42, ln. 10-12. After Caulfield left her purse and exited the vehicle, Wright searched Caulfield's purse while Tyree simultaneously searched the interior of the vehicle. The deputies did not conduct a protective pat down search on Caulfield. Wright claimed that Caulfield gave him consent to search her purse. Caulfield claimed that she never consented to the search of her purse, and the trial court accepted her testimony.

{¶ 8} Tyree discovered unidentified pills in the tray of the center console of the vehicle. The pills were later identified as vitamins. Wright discovered unknown pills, syringes, marihuana, two scales, and various plastic baggies in Caulfield's purse. Wright arrested Caulfield, and asked her if she was carrying anything else. Caulfield responded by disclosing that she had drugs and drug paraphernalia in her bra. Tyree then noticed a plastic bag sticking out of the top of Caulfield's shirt and removed it. Tyree suspected that the substance in the plastic bag was crystal meth. Tyree contacted the Centerville Police Department to request that a female officer be dispatched to conduct a pat-down on Caulfield. Once the female officer arrived, a pat-down was conducted, and a black pouch was discovered in Caulfield's bra. The pouch contained a substance later identified as crystal meth.

{¶ 9} On July 27, 2012, Caulfield was indicted on two counts of Aggravated Possession of Drugs (Schedule I or II), one count of Possession of Marihuana, one count of Possession of Drugs (Schedule III, IV, or V), and one count of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. On August 22, 2012, Caulfield filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from her purse and undergarments on grounds that it was obtained pursuant to an unlawful search and seizure.

{¶ 10} The trial court granted the motion to suppress. The trial court concluded that Caulfield was illegally seized because there were no articulable facts giving rise to a suspicion of illegal activity that justified extending Caulfield's detention after the driver was arrested. Additionally, the trial court concluded that even if Caulfield was not illegally seized, the search of her purse was illegal because the State presented insufficient evidence to warrant the application of the officer safety exception to the warrant requirement. The State appeals the trial court's ruling on the motion to suppress.

II. Did the Trial Court Err in Granting Caulfield's Motion to ...

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