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State v. Vega

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

February 23, 2017

STATE OF OHIO PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
EDWIN A. VEGA DEFENDANT-APPELLEE

         Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-15-599025-A

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Brett Hammond Daniel T. Van Eleina Thomas Assistant County Prosecutors

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE John H. Lawson The Brownhoist Building, Brandon J. Henderson Justin M. Weatherly Henderson, Mokhtari & Weatherly Co., L.P.A.

          BEFORE: Blackmon, J., Kilbane, P.J., and Stewart, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          PATRICIA ANN BLACKMON, JUDGE

          {¶1} The state of Ohio appeals from the trial court's granting defendant Edwin Vega's ("Vega") motion to suppress and assigns the following error for our review:

         I. The trial court erred when it suppressed the evidence.

         {¶2} Having reviewed the record and pertinent law, we affirm. The apposite facts follow.

         {¶3} On March 28, 2015, Cleveland State University Police Officer Jeffrey Madej initiated a traffic stop at E. 18th Street and Payne Avenue in Cleveland, after allegedly witnessing Vega turn left at a red light. Officer Madej approached Vega's car, smelled a strong odor of raw marijuana coming from the vehicle, and advised Vega that he was going to search the car. Vega was put in the back of the police car. In the center console and cup holder area of Vega's vehicle, Officer Madej found three cell phones, several "raw buds of marijuana, " a small amount of "shake weed, " and an open pack of hard candy. Officer Madej also found cases of rolling papers, several aerosol canisters of an "odor masking agent, " and "a white package box, USPS box, on the back seat." This box was partially opened and inside were "two white mail packages, " which were sealed but unlabeled.

         {¶4} Vega told Officer Madej that the envelopes contained stickers and refused to give consent to open the packages. Officer Madej continued to detain Vega, and approximately 23 minutes into the traffic stop, conferred with other officers and law enforcement officials, both on the scene and via phone calls, and tried to locate a narcotics K9 unit. After 38 additional minutes, the police were unsuccessful in locating a K9 unit. Approximately 53 minutes into the traffic stop, Officer Madej wrote Vega tickets for a traffic infringement and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

         {¶5} In the meantime, the police made a "collaborative decision" to open the packages. This decision was "based * * * on the strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle." Inside the packages, Officer Madej found "three large Ziplock clear bags containing a large amount of Sweet Stone Candy." This is the same brand of candy that was found in the center console. It was not until the packages were opened that Officer Madej realized the candy "could contain THC." One hour and 12 minutes after Officer Madej stopped Vega's car, Vega was arrested for drug trafficking.

         {¶6} On September 9, 2015, Vega was indicted with five drug-related offenses. On January 11, the court held a suppression hearing, and on January 25, 2016, the court granted Vega's motion to suppress, finding that Vega was unlawfully detained for an unreasonable amount of time after the initial search of his vehicle revealed a misdemeanor quantity of marijuana. The court suppressed the "150 individual packages of the Sweet Stone candy found in the envelopes that were opened during a constitutionally impermissible detention."

         {¶7} It is from this order that the state of Ohio appeals.

         Standard of Review - ...


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