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State v. McDonald

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Seneca

December 26, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CORY D. MCDONALD, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

         Appeal from Seneca County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. 17 CR 0020

          Danielle C. Kulik for Appellant

          Stephanie J. Kiser for Appellee

          OPINION

          WILLAMOWSKI, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant Cory D. McDonald ("McDonald") appeals the judgment of the Seneca County Court of Common Pleas for denying his motion to suppress. For the reasons set forth below, the judgment of the lower court is affirmed.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} Patrolman Brett Bethel ("Bethel") has worked for the Fostoria Police Department since 2007. Tr. 4. On January 19, 2017, he was preparing to go on his patrol when a detective reported to him that McDonald was suspected of transporting narcotics. Tr. 6. Bethel was familiar with McDonald and had cited him in the past for driving while his license was suspended. Tr. 14. The officers who had been on the afternoon patrol shift also told Bethel that McDonald had been spotted driving around town earlier that day in his regular vehicle. Tr. 10. In response to this information, Bethel had dispatch check McDonald's driving status in the Law Enforcement Automated Data System ("LEADS"). Tr. 6. Bethel consequently discovered that McDonald did not have a valid license at that time. Tr. 6. Later, during his shift, Bethel was parked in a lot by the side of the road. Tr. 7. In between 11:30 and 11:45 p.m., Bethel saw McDonald drive past him in a blue sedan. Tr. 14, 15. McDonald was the sole occupant of the vehicle. Tr. 6.

         {¶3} Bethel testified that he was able to identify McDonald without difficulty because he had encountered McDonald "numerous times throughout [his] career in Fostoria, specifically [McDonald] driving that specific vehicle." Tr. 7. McDonald also wore "distinctive eyeglasses, " which Bethel could see from his vantage point on the side of the road. Tr. 7. Knowing that McDonald did not have a valid driver's license, Bethel decided to initiate a stop of McDonald's vehicle. Tr. 8. As the result of this stop, McDonald was found to be in possession of contraband and was arrested. Doc. 2.

         {¶4} On February 22, 2017, McDonald was charged with failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer in violation of R.C. 2921.331(B), (C)(5)(a)(ii) and with possession of cocaine in violation of R.C. 2925.11(A), (C)(4)(a). Doc. 2. On March 1, 2017, McDonald filed a motion to suppress. Doc. 20. The trial court held a hearing on this motion on April 27, 2017. Tr. 1. Bethel testified as to his observations on the night of January 19, 2017, and stated that the basis of the stop of McDonald's vehicle was the fact that McDonald was driving without a valid driver's license. Tr. 5-8, 12.

         {¶5} On cross examination, Bethel admitted that his police report characterized his request for dispatch to check McDonald's driver status as "random." Tr. 11. He indicated that this meant that this check was not part of work done for the drug task force. Tr. 11-12. On recross examination, the Defense again questioned Bethel about his use of the word "random" in the police report. Tr. 20. This exchange occurred as followed:

Q. Random to me means like you picked his name out of a hat. You say-you said to the prosecutor this was a random running. How did you choose him to run then?
A. Because I was informed by-I was given intel by the drug detective as well as the road units from afternoon shift, but it was not for anything specific at that time, just be on the lookout, he's driving without a license.

Tr. 20. In closing arguments, the Defense argued that this was a random check of McDonald's driving status that was conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Tr. 23.

         {¶6} On May 10, 2017, the trial court overruled McDonald's motion to suppress. Doc. 41. The trial court found that the traffic stop was based upon probable cause because Bethel knew that McDonald did not have a valid driver's license at the time that he saw McDonald driving. Doc. 41. On August 17, 2017, McDonald entered a plea of no contest to three charges against him: one count of failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer in violation of R.C. 2921.331(B), (C)(5)(a)(ii); one count of possession of cocaine in violation of R.C. 2925.11(A), (C)(4)(b); and one count of tampering with evidence in ...


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