APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE MEDINA MUNICIPAL COURT COUNTY OF MEDINA, OHIO CASE No. 12 TRC 04516
DAVID C. SHELDON, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.
J. MATTHEW LANIER, Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
(¶1} Defendant-Appellant, William Adams, appeals from his convictions in the Medina Municipal Court. This Court affirms.
(¶2} On July 31, 2011, Officer Justin Bennett of the Montville Police Department observed Adams traveling 60 m.p.h. in a 45 m.p.h. zone. Officer Bennett initiated a traffic stop to issue Adams a citation for speeding. When Officer Bennett made contact with Adams, he noticed a strong odor of alcohol. According to Officer Bennett, Adams avoided eye contact and kept his chin tucked into his chest. Officer Bennett testified that Adams' speech was slurred and mumbled. When he did make eye contact with Officer Bennett, Adams' eyes were "bloodshot and glossy." Adams refused to perform any field sobriety tests and was arrested. Adams also refused a breathalyzer test.
(¶3} Adams was charged with: (1) one count of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol ("OVI"), in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a), a misdemeanor of the first degree; (2) one count of OVI with a prior OVI conviction within the past twenty years and refusing to submit to a chemical test, in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(2), a misdemeanor of the first degree; and (3) speeding, in violation of R.C. 4511.21(C), a minor misdemeanor. After a jury trial, Adams was convicted of all three charges. Adams now appeals and raises three assignments of error for our review.
Assignment of Error Number One
OFFICER BENNETT ARRESTED APPELLANT FOR OVI BASED ON THE FOLLOWING OBSERVATIONS: SPEEDING, BLOODSHOT EYES, ADMISSION TO CONSUMING ONE BEER, STRONG ODOR OF ALCOHOL, FUMBLING WITH HIS WALLET, MUMBLING, AND AVOIDING EYE CONTACT. MR. ADAMS' SPEECH WAS NOT SLURRED, HE DID NOT DRIVE ERRATICALLY, AND HE REFUSED FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS. THE TRIAL COURT'S CONCLUSION THAT PTL. BENNETT HAD PROBABLE CAUSE TO ARREST WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY COMPETENT, CREDIBLE EVIDENCE. THE TRIAL COURT'S CONCLUSION WAS ERRONEOUS.
(¶4} In his first assignment of error, Adams argues that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Specifically, Adams argues that the court erred in finding that there was probable cause to arrest him for OVI
(¶5} The Ohio Supreme Court has held that:
[a]ppellate review of a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of law and fact. When considering a motion to suppress, the trial court assumes the role of trier of fact and is therefore in the best position to resolve factual questions and evaluate the credibility of witnesses. State v. Mills, 62 Ohio St.3d 357, 366 (1992). Consequently, an appellate court must accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence. State v. Fanning, 1 Ohio St.3d 19 (1982). Accepting these facts as true, the appellate court must then independently determine, without deference to the conclusion of the trial court, whether the facts satisfy the applicable legal standard. State v. McNamara, 124 Ohio App.3d 706 (4th Dist.1997).
State v. Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, ¶ 8. Accord State v. Hobbs, 133 Ohio St.3d 43, 2012-Ohio-3886, ¶ 6 (Burnside applied). Accordingly, this Court reviews the trial court's factual findings for competent, credible evidence and considers the court's legal conclusions de novo. State v. Conley, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 08CA009454, 2009-Ohio-910, ¶ 6, citing Burnside at ¶ 8.
(¶6} "In determining whether the police had probable cause to arrest an individual for [OVI], we consider whether, at the moment of arrest, the police had sufficient information, derived from a reasonably trustworthy source of facts and circumstances, sufficient to cause a prudent person to believe that the suspect was under the influence." State v. Ragle, 9th Dist. Summit No. 25706, 2012-Ohio-4253, ¶ 26, quoting State v. Homan, 89 Ohio St.3d 421, 427, superseded on other grounds, State v. Schmitt, 101 Ohio St.3d 79, 2004-Ohio-37, ¶ 9, citing R.C. 4511.19. "Even without positive results on field sobriety testing, the totality of the facts and circumstances may support probable cause to arrest for [OVI]." State v. Walters, 9th Dist. Medina No. 11CA0039-M, 2012-Ohio-2429, ¶ 10. "[T]he standard for probable cause does not require a prima facie showing of criminal activity; rather, the standard requires 'only a showing that a probability of criminal activity exists.'" State v. Tejada, 9th Dist. Summit No. 20947, 2002-Ohio-5777, ¶ 8, quoting State v. Young, 146 Ohio App.3d 245, 254 (11th Dist.2001).
(¶7} At the suppression hearing, Officer Bennett testified that he witnessed Adams traveling 60 m.p.h. in a 45 m.p.h. zone. He proceeded to follow Adams and eventually effectuated a traffic stop. Officer Bennett testified that he did not notice any erratic driving and had pulled Adams over merely to issue a citation for speeding. According to Officer Bennett, when he initially approached Adams, Adams avoided eye contact and kept his chin buried in his chest. Officer Bennett noticed a strong odor of alcohol and began to suspect that Adams had been drinking. He asked Adams where he was coming from and if he had been drinking. Adams replied that he was coming from "[d]owntown" and that he had consumed one beer. According to Officer Bennett, Adams' "speech was kind of slurred, and he was kind of mumbling." Officer Bennett testified that when he asked Adams for his driver's license and proof of insurance, Adams "fumbl[ed]" through paperwork in his wallet and had difficulty locating the documents. Officer Bennett said that when Adams did finally make eye contact with him, Adams' eyes were "bloodshot and glossy."
(¶8} Officer Bennett testified that he returned to his cruiser and requested backup because he had decided to conduct field sobriety tests. He then retrieved Adams' driving record and noticed that he had three prior OVI convictions. When backup arrived, Officer Bennett returned to Adams' car and asked him to step out of the vehicle. According to Officer Bennett, Adams appeared "very unsure of himself and was stumbling a little bit as he [got] out" of his car. Adams immediately told Officer Bennett that he would not perform any field sobriety tests. Officer Bennett testified that when Adams walked to the front of the cruiser he was stumbling and did "not [have] an adequate gait."
(¶9} A video of the traffic stop was admitted into evidence. As the video was played, Officer Bennett noted times in which he believed Adams physically stumbled. The only audio recording of the stop is when Adams was in the back seat of the police cruiser, post-arrest. Officer Bennett admitted that Adams did not appear to be slurring his words in the ...