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State v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District

August 5, 2013

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WINSTON THOMAS, Defendant-Appellant.

CRIMINAL APPEAL FROM WARREN COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS Case No. 07CR24553.

David P. Fornsheii, Warren County Prosecuting Attorney, Michael Greer, for plaintiff-appellee.

Clyde Bennett II, for defendant-appellant.

OPINION

PIPER, J.

{¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Winston Thomas, appeals his convictions and sentence in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas for possession of and trafficking in marijuana.

{¶ 2} On October 9, 2007, Deputy Brian Lewis was patrolling northbound traffic on I-71 in Turtle Creek Township. Deputy Lewis noticed a dark-colored minivan traveling in the left-hand lane, followed by a semi-truck. Deputy Lewis clocked the van going 64 m.p.h. in an area of interstate that had a posted speed limit of 65 m.p.h. As the van and truck passed Deputy Lewis, the van slowed so suddenly that the semi-truck had to apply its brakes to avoid a rear-end collision with the van. Deputy Lewis checked the van's speed, which had decreased to 59 m.p.h.

{¶ 3} After pulling onto the highway to follow. Deputy Lewis continued to watch the van, which had moved to the right lane. Deputy Lewis then saw the minivan drift over the centerline so that both the front and rear tires were across and into the left lane, only to drift back into the right lane. Deputy Lewis also observed the van's speed fluctuate from the mid-50s up to the mid-60s and back again. At that point. Deputy Lewis stopped the van.

{¶ 4} In addition to being a deputy with the Warren County Sheriff's Office, Deputy Lewis is also a trained canine handler, and at the time of the pertinent proceedings, was assigned to the Warren County Drug Task Force. Deputy Lewis informed Anthony Graham, the driver, that he pulled the van over because Graham committed a lane violation.[1] At that time. Deputy Lewis requested Graham's identification. Thomas, who was a passenger in the van, told Deputy Lewis that he had rented the van. Deputy Lewis requested Thomas' identification and the rental paperwork. While Deputy Lewis was waiting for Graham and Thomas to turn over their identifications and rental paperwork, he visually scanned the van and noticed an air freshener in the back of the van, as well as various garbage bags and clothes.

{¶ 5} Deputy Lewis then verified that the van was rented and discovered that Thomas had picked it up from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts at approximately 8:00 pm the previous night. Deputy Lewis asked Thomas to step out of the van, and began a conversation with him in front of his police cruiser. Thomas told Deputy Lewis that he and Graham had driven from Boston in order to visit friends in Cincinnati. However, Thomas would not give Deputy Lewis a specific address or location where he visited his friends, instead telling Deputy Lewis that he and Graham slept in the van and were traveling to Cleveland.

{¶ 6} After hearing Thomas' version. Deputy Lewis went back to the van and asked Graham to explain why the two had come from Boston the night before. Graham told Deputy Lewis that the two had been to Cincinnati, but said that they were visiting family. However, Graham could not give a specific location or address that they had visited. Graham also told Deputy Lewis that they had gotten lost and had, at one point, ended up in Indianapolis.

{¶ 7} Deputy Lewis called for backup assistance and ran Thomas' and Graham's information through police dispatch to confirm their identifications and that neither had any outstanding warrants. By the time the information was verified, a backup unit arrived on the scene and Deputy Lewis felt the situation was secure enough to perform a canine sniff to detect drugs. During the search, Thomas and Graham were seated in the backup unit's cruiser. Before placing them in the cruiser, the backup officer patted Thomas and Graham down and found a McDonald's bag with over $2, 000 cash in the back of Thomas' waistband. At that point. Deputy Lewis walked his canine partner around the van, and the dog alerted at the back of the van as well as the driver-side door.

{¶ 8} Deputy Lewis opened the back door of the van, removed a blanket from the back seat area and found four individual bails wrapped in moving blankets and tape. After Deputy Lewis removed the moving blanket and cut through the tape and cellophane, he saw that the bundle was filled with a green, leafy substance he recognized as marijuana. The police then took the van to a secure garage and thoroughly searched the van, finding two more bundles of marijuana in the middle portion of the van. In total, 313 pounds of marijuana were discovered in the van.

{¶ 9} Soon thereafter, Detective Dan Schweitzer of the Warren County Drug Task Force and Special Agent Raymond Draft of the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") interviewed Thomas and Graham. In an interview separate from Thomas, Graham told Schweitzer and Draft that he and Thomas drove from Boston to Cincinnati, slept in the van at a rest stop, and had eventually stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts in the Kenwood Mall area.

{ΒΆ 10} Graham said that while at Dunkin' Donuts, Thomas went outside and approached three unknown males and had a conversation with them. The men drove off in the van and brought it back a few hours later. Graham told Detective Schweitzer and Special Agent Draft that Thomas said the men were family members. When the van ...


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