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State v. Howell

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

February 16, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LAKISHA HOWELL, Defendant-Appellant.

         Hamilton County Municipal Court TRIAL NO. C-14TRC-38185A

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Alex Scott Havlin, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and Carrie Wood, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          Myers, Presiding Judge

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant Lakisha Howell has appealed from the trial court's entry convicting her upon a no-contest plea to operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a).

         {¶2} In two assignments of error, Howell argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress based on both the alleged unlawful stop of her automobile and the alleged unlawful administration of field-sobriety tests. Because the stop of Howell's vehicle was not supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion, we hold that the trial court erred in failing to grant her motion to suppress.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         {¶3} On August 6, 2014, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Aaron Shade conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle driven by Howell. Following the stop, Howell was cited for failure to dim headlights in violation of R.C. 4513.15 and placed under arrest for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a) and 4511.19(A)(1)(d).

         {¶4} Howell filed a motion to suppress challenging the traffic stop, the administration of field-sobriety tests, and her arrest. At a hearing on the motion, Trooper Shade testified that he had been patrolling westbound on Interstate 275 at approximately 2:30 a.m., when Howell's vehicle approached him from behind. Howell had her high beams on as she approached, but dimmed them when she got close to the trooper's vehicle. Trooper Shade observed Howell "bouncing" a little back and forth in her lane while she was behind him. He testified that she had not committed a lane violation and had not been driving erratically. He explained that the bouncing did not constitute a marked-lanes violation, but it had raised his suspicion because it was "abnormal." Trooper Shade slowed down to allow Howell to pass him, but she continued to stay behind his vehicle. As Howell exited from the interstate, Trooper Shade moved behind her and followed her for a short distance. She did not commit any traffic violations during this time. Trooper Shade testified that the sole reason he stopped Howell was because she had committed a traffic violation by failing to dim her headlights on the interstate.

         {¶5} Upon approaching Howell's vehicle, Trooper Shade detected an odor of alcohol coming from within the vehicle, and he asked Howell if she had had anything to drink. Howell stated that she had drunk one margarita. Trooper Shade removed her from the vehicle and administered three field-sobriety tests. Based on Howell's performance on the field-sobriety tests, the odor of alcohol that he had detected from within Howell's vehicle, Howell's failure to dim her headlights, and the bouncing within her lane on the interstate, Trooper Shade placed Howell under arrest.

         {¶6} The trial court denied Howell's motion to suppress, finding that the initial traffic stop had been legal and based upon probable cause. It further found that the field-sobriety tests had been properly administered. As relevant to the traffic stop of Howell's vehicle, the trial court found as a fact that Howell had operated her motor vehicle behind Trooper Shade on Interstate 275 with her high beams illuminated, and that Trooper Shade had stopped Howell's vehicle based on her failure to dim her headlights. The court specifically found that the stop had been a noninvestigatory stop. The trial court denied Howell's motion to suppress upon its conclusion that Trooper Shade had probable cause to conduct a noninvestigatory stop of Howell's vehicle based on her failure to dim her headlights.

         {¶7} Howell subsequently pled no contest to a violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a) and was found guilty. She appealed, but her appeal was dismissed by this court because the trial court had not imposed a sentence, and therefore, the order appealed from was not final and appealable.

         {¶8} After her appeal was dismissed, the trial court sentenced Howell. She now appeals from the trial court's final entry finding her guilty and imposing sentence. In two assignments of error, she challenges the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress.

         Standard ...


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