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State v. Essad

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

May 22, 2017

STATE OF OHIO Appellant
v.
DANIEL M. ESSAD, KIMBERLY M. BENSON Appellees

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE Nos. 15CA090977 15CR090976

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and NATASHA RUIZ GUERRIERI, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellant.

          JOSEPH A. DELGUYD, Attorney at Law, for Appellee.

          IAN N. FRIEDMAN, Attorney at Law, for Apellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          DONNA J. CARR Presiding Judge.

         {¶1} Appellant, the State of Ohio, appeals from the judgment of the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas, granting Defendant-Appellees, Daniel Essad and Kimberly Benson's, joint motion to suppress. This Court reverses and remands for further proceedings.

         I.

         {¶2} On the afternoon of January 21, 2015, Benson and Essad were traveling eastbound on the Ohio Turnpike in Essad's pick-up truck. Benson was driving the truck, and Essad was seated on the passenger's side. As the two approached mile post 133, they were observed by two Ohio State Highway Patrolmen. Both patrolmen were parked in a crossover in the middle of the turnpike. They sat alongside each other in two different cruisers, both of which pointed to the south. Sergeant Neil Laughlin was operating the cruiser on the west-hand side, and his partner that day, Trooper Michael Trader, was parked to his left.

         {¶3} According to Sergeant Laughlin, he first noticed Benson and Essad's truck because he saw the truck make a "rapid speed reduction, " consistent with the driver either slamming on the brakes or "abruptly letting off the gas." The truck then continued to travel at a lower rate of speed as it passed his cruiser. Trooper Trader also noticed the truck because it appeared to be traveling below the speed limit. As the truck passed the two troopers, both observed that the driver (Benson) and passenger (Essad) appeared to have "very stiff or "very rigid posture[s]." Trooper Trader then turned to his right to discuss his observations with Sergeant Laughlin. Meanwhile, Sergeant Laughlin continued to watch the truck. As he was watching, he witnessed the truck cross over the right lane marker by approximately a tire width for a few seconds before returning to its lane of travel. Based on his observations, he decided to exit the crossover and follow the truck.

         {¶4} Sergeant Laughlin ultimately stopped the truck somewhere between mile post 135 and 136. According to the sergeant, he observed an additional traffic violation before stopping the truck because it moved from the right-hand lane to the middle lane without signaling. His dash cam recording, however, did not capture the lane change.

         {¶5} Trooper Trader independently decided to join Sergeant Laughlin at some point during the stop. Because Sergeant Laughlin's interactions with Benson and Essad led him to believe that they might be engaging in criminal activity, he asked Trooper Trader to take his canine around the truck. The canine soon alerted to the bed of the truck, which the troopers then searched. Inside the truck bed, the troopers discovered over 200 pounds of marijuana.

         {¶6} Benson and Essad were each indicted on one count of trafficking in marijuana and one count of possessing marijuana. They filed a joint motion to suppress, and the trial court held a hearing over the course of two days: November 30, 2015 and February 24, 2016. Following the hearing, the court allowed the parties to file additional briefs. Benson and Essad filed a joint brief, and the State filed a response. The court then reviewed the filings and granted the joint motion to suppress. The court determined that Sergeant Laughlin lacked reasonable suspicion to execute a traffic stop.

         {¶7} The State now appeals from the trial court's order and raises two ...


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