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State v. Mee

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

August 25, 2017

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
MATTHEW I. MEE Defendant-Appellee

         Trial Court Case No. 2016-CR-1105

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., ALICE B. PETERS Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellant

          MARK E. LANDERS, Attorney for Defendant-Appellee

          OPINION

          TUCKER, J.

          {¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, the State of Ohio, appeals from the trial court's decision of January 26, 2017 sustaining in part and overruling in part a motion to suppress filed by Defendant-appellee, Matthew I. Mee. The State argues that the trial court erred by sustaining Mee's motion in part with respect to evidence obtained as the result of a search of Mee's vehicle during a traffic stop. In its decision, the trial court determined that the search was unlawful because Mee was detained for a longer interval than was reasonably necessary. We find that Mee's detention did not last longer than was reasonably necessary, and we therefore reverse.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} On April 4, 2016, Officer Spinks of the Kettering Police Department, on routine patrol in a marked cruiser, witnessed a traffic violation "on Research Boulevard just east of Founders Drive." Tr. of Hr'g on Mot. to Suppress 6, 8-9 and 23 [hereinafter Tr. of Hr'g]. Specifically, he saw a vehicle being driven by Mee "in the left through lane * * * drift[]* * * into the right lane and then [return to] the left * * * lane, " crossing the dividing line between the two lanes in the process, and violating § 432.08 of the Kettering Codified Ordinances [hereinafter KCO].[1] Id. at 9, 19 and 30. Officer Spinks stopped the vehicle shortly afterwards at approximately 1:59 a.m., near the intersection of Shakertown Road and County Line Road. See id. at 10 and 53.

         {¶ 3} With Mee's vehicle stopped, Officer Spinks "called out to dispatch, [reporting] the registration [number of] the vehicle and [the] location" of the stop. Id. at 10. He approached the vehicle from the driver's side, identified himself to Mee and the two passengers with Mee, and explained that he made the stop as the result of Mee's "failure to maintain a continuous lane." Id. at 10 and 13. After obtaining Mee's proof of insurance and driver's license, and identification from the two passengers, Officer Spinks asked Mee "where he was coming from" and whether he had "consumed any alcohol, " because, based on past observations of other drivers "drifting the way that he did, " Officer Spinks suspected that Mee might have been intoxicated. Id. Mee denied that he had consumed any alcohol, and Officer Spinks "didn't smell any alcohol in the car[, ] which kind of assured that that wasn't the case." Id. at 10-11. In response to a follow-up question from Officer Spinks, Mee and his two passengers also denied that "there were any drugs in the vehicle." Id. at 11.

         {¶ 4}Officer Spinks returned to his cruiser to run background checks "through LEADS [the Law Enforcement Automated Data System, ] NCIC [the National Crime Information Center] and JusticeWeb." Id. at 11-12. This revealed that a drug-related driver's license suspension had been imposed on one of Mee's passengers ("Passenger One") in 2014. See id. at 13. While Officer Spinks was running background checks, a second officer with the Kettering Police Department, Officer Maloney, and his K-9 partner, Jax, responded to the stop to provide backup for Officer Spinks.[2] Id. at 13, 34, 62-65, 130-131 and 143-144. Officer Spinks estimated that Officer Maloney arrived at approximately 2:03 or 2:04 a.m.; similarly, Officer Maloney estimated that he arrived within one to three minutes after Officer Spinks stopped Mee's vehicle. Id. at 53 and 87.

         {¶ 5} In light of the results of the background checks, and at least partly prompted by Officer Maloney's arrival, Officer Spinks decided to ask for consent to search Mee's vehicle or, in the event that Mee did not consent, to have Officer Maloney and Jax conduct a free-air sniff. See id. at 14 and 53. Officer Spinks, now accompanied by Officer Maloney, returned to Mee's vehicle, again asked Mee and his passengers whether "they had any drugs or anything illegal in the vehicle, " and requested Mee's consent to a search. Id. at 14 and 65-66. Mee declined, indicating that he wanted to go home.[3] Id. at 14 and 66. Along with one of his passengers ("Passenger Two"), Mee testified that Officer Spinks had spent roughly five to ten minutes in his cruiser before he and Officer Maloney returned to ask for consent.[4] Id. at 131 and 144.

         {¶ 6} At that point, Officer Spinks informed Mee that he intended to have Officer Maloney and Jax conduct a free-air sniff and that, in accord with departmental policy, he would require Mee and the two passengers to exit Mee's vehicle for that purpose.[5] Id.at 14-15, 50 and 67. Officer Spinks had Mee exit first and requested permission to pat him down for weapons; Mee consented.[6] Id. at 15 and 67. Approximately 12 to 15 minutes had passed since Officer Spinks initiated the stop. Id. at 15, 67 and 148.

         {¶ 7} In Mee's "left side jacket pocket, [Officer Spinks] felt a bottle" and "hear[d] a bag, " so he asked Mee if he "could put [his] hands into [Mee's] pocket" to retrieve the items. Id. at 15 and 67. Mee again consented.[7] Id. at 57-58. The contents of Mee's pocket proved to be "a pill bottle and a bag that contained a bunch of pills." Id. at 15. Mee told Officer Spinks that the pills were pain medication, but when Officer Spinks "looked at the bottle and compared what the bottle said to what the pills looked like, they weren't the same."[8] Id. This prompted Officer Spinks to place Mee in handcuffs and take him into investigative detention. Id.

         {¶ 8} Officer Spinks and Officer Maloney next asked Passenger Two to exit Mee's vehicle. Id. at 17 and 69. As Passenger Two emerged from the vehicle, Officer Spinks saw what looked like two "Rice Krispie treats and a brownie" on the floorboard in front of Passenger Two's seat, and when the officers asked what the items were, Passenger Two indicated that they were "treats that had been baked with marijuana and * * * had been given to him by Mr. Mee."[9] Id. Believing that they had probable cause, the officers then undertook a complete search of Mee's vehicle without the assistance of Jax. See id. at 17-18 and 69-70.

         {¶ 9} Officers Spinks and Maloney eventually discovered felony-level drugs contained in a lockbox, which they found inside a bookbag belonging to Mee. Id. at 17-18, 72. Officer Maloney then informed Mee of his Miranda rights. Id. at 72. The officers never conducted a free-air sniff, and Officer Spinks only later completed a written traffic citation-once they "got back to the police department." Id. at 49.

         II. Analysis

         {¶ 10} For its sole assignment of error, the State contends that:

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN SUSTAINING MEE'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS BECAUSE OFFICER SPINKS DID NOT PROLONG THE TRAFFIC STOP BEYOND THE TIME REASONABLY REQUIRED TO COMPLETE HIS INVESTIGATION OF THE TRAFFIC VIOLATION AND ISSUE A CITATION.

         {¶ 11} An appellant has three methods for challenging a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress: (1) contesting the court's findings of fact; (2) asserting that the court evaluated the facts pursuant to the wrong test; and (3) arguing that the court drew the wrong legal conclusion from the facts. See In re Long, 5th Dist. Stark No. 2004-CA-00377, 2005-Ohio-3825, ¶ 3. A challenge of the last variety, which the State brings in the instant matter, requires that an appellate court "independently determine, without deference to the trial court's conclusion, whether the facts meet the [applicable] legal standard." Id., citing State v. Curry, 95 Ohio App.3d 93, 96, 641 N.E.2d 1172 (8th Dist.1994), State v. Claytor, 85 Ohio App.3d 623, 627, 620 N.E.2d 906 (4th Dist.1993), and State v. Guysinger, 86 Ohio App.3d 592, 621 N.E.2d 726 (4th Dist.1993); see Appellant's Br. 5.

         {¶ 12} The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Terry v. Ohio,392 U.S. 1, 8, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Warrantless searches and seizures violate this prohibition unless conducted pursuant to one of the "few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." (Citations omitted.) Katz v. United States,389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). One of these exceptions "is commonly known as an investigative or Terry stop, " which includes the temporary detention of motorists for the ...


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