APPEAL from the Franklin County (M.C. No. 2012 TR C 160514) Municipal Court.
Richard C. Pfeiffer, Jr., City Attorney, and Orly Ahroni, for appellee.
Shaw & Miller, and Mark J. Miller, for appellant.
(¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Wendy S. Weese, appeals from a judgment of the Franklin County Municipal Court following her plea of no contest to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs ("OVI") and a parking violation. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
(¶ 2} Appellant was issued a citation for OVI and for parking "[i]n front of a public or private driveway" pursuant to R.C. 4511.68(A)(2). Appellant filed a motion to suppress alleging that Officer Jon B. Gebhart lacked reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop. Plaintiff-appellee, the state of Ohio, filed a memorandum in opposition and the trial court held a hearing on the motion. Therein, the following evidence was presented.
(¶ 3} On July 15, 2012, Officer Gebhart, the only witness to testify at the hearing, was on patrol in a marked city of Worthington police cruiser. According to Gebhart, at approximately 2:00 a.m., while completing an unrelated traffic stop, he overheard a dispatch from the city of Columbus. Gebhart testified the dispatch informed him that an impaired driver in a white Hyundai was traveling northbound on State Route 315. Gebhart testified that he did not remember if the description of the vehicle included a tag number or any other identifying information; nevertheless, he stated he saw a vehicle "that matched the description" drive past his location sometime later. (Tr. 14.) Gebhart stated he did not notice any erratic or illegal driving at that time.
(¶ 4} According to Gebhart, after completing the first traffic stop, he observed the same white Hyundai on Wilson Bridge Road stopped in a "very odd" position. (Tr. 16.) Gebhart testified the white Hyundai, operated by appellant, "was at the very end of the entrance driveway to the bank, and the front end of it was partially out into the roadway causing an individual * * * to have to swerve and miss the vehicle." (Tr. 16.) Gebhart stated he was concerned appellant was either impaired or had a medical condition because of the position of her vehicle.
(¶ 5} Gebhart testified he pulled behind appellant's vehicle and turned his overhead lights on. He stated appellant, unprompted, opened her car door. Gebhart stated he approached the vehicle and noticed appellant had become "sick" inside the vehicle. (Tr. 18.) The state concluded their case with video footage from Gebhart's cruiser.
(¶ 6} An independent review of the relevant portion of the video reveals that Gebhart pulled behind appellant's already stationary vehicle, effectively blocking a lane of traffic, and turned his visibar lights on. Appellant's vehicle was stopped, blocking the bank's exit lane, with the front driver side tire slightly protruding into the roadway. Appellant then opened the door of her vehicle and leaned out. Gebhart exited his cruiser and, while walking toward appellant, asked her if everything was okay.
(¶ 7} The suppression hearing concluded with closing statements. The state's argument was two-fold. First, that no seizure occurred under the Fourth Amendment because Gebhart had reasonable suspicion to approach appellant's vehicle based on the dispatch call and the parking violation, and second, that because Gebhart was conducting a "wellness check, " reasonable suspicion was not required to conduct a traffic stop, and, thus, the Fourth Amendment was not implicated. (Tr. 39.) In response, appellant argued both that her vehicle was not parked in violation of R.C. 4511.68(A)(2) and that the dispatch call was unreliable and could not be relied upon by Gebhart to conduct an investigative stop. Appellant further argued the state's wellness check argument was based on Gebhart's "speculation" and "guesses" about appellant's condition. (Tr. 40.)
(¶ 8} The trial court issued an entry denying appellant's motion to suppress, reasoning both that, under the totality of the circumstances, Gebhart had reasonable suspicion to perform an investigative stop and that, "even in the absence of reasonable suspicion * * *, officers may perform investigative stops to carry out 'community caretaking functions, ' such as safety checks on occupants of illegally parked cars." (Oct. 23, 2012 Judgment Entry, 4.) After the trial court rendered its decision, appellant pled no ...