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City of Cleveland v. Martin

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

March 1, 2018


         Criminal Appeal from the Cleveland Municipal Court Case No. 2016 TRC 027709

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Barbara A. Langhenry City of Cleveland Director of Law By: Lorraine Coyne Assistant Prosecutor, Kimberly G. Barnett-Mills Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Daniel J. Wodarczyk Douglass & Associates Co., L.P.A. Britt Newman, Eric Norton, Norton Law Firm Co., L.P.A. Cedar-Grandview Building

          BEFORE: S. Gallagher, J., Keough, P.J., and Celebrezze, J.



         {¶1} The city of Cleveland appeals from the interlocutory judgment granting Calvin Martin's motion to suppress all evidence obtained during a traffic stop. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         {¶2} Martin was charged with violations of R.C. 4511.33, marked lane violations; R.C. 4510.11(A), driving under a suspended license; and R.C. 4511.19(A), operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Martin filed a motion to suppress all evidence. He claims that the arresting police officer did not articulate a reasonable suspicion justifying the initial stop based on the strength of the city's evidence in support of the marked lane violation. According to Martin, the recording of the traffic encounter demonstrated that although the tires of Martin's vehicle touched the lane boundary lines on several occasions, the evidence was insufficient to definitively prove that the tires completely crossed the boundary markers. In the alternative, Martin claims that even if the stop was valid, the officer lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion justifying the administration of field sobriety tests and that those tests were not conducted according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards.

         {¶3} The arresting officer encountered Martin around 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning driving in the rightmost, eastbound lane on I-90. The officer witnessed Martin drift over the white hash marks of an exit lane, lazily veer back into the through lane, and cross over the solid white line dividing the exit lane and the shoulder of the highway before drifting back into the through lane. After the second perceived infraction, the officer initiated a traffic stop.

         {¶4} While approaching the vehicle, the officer detected an odor of alcohol in the vehicle compartment and he also noticed that Martin's eyes were bloodshot. The officer asked Martin for his driver's license, and Martin admitted he was driving under suspension. Martin was then removed from his vehicle and acknowledged his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). The officer noted that the odor of alcohol followed Martin, who admitted the consumption of one or two alcoholic drinks that evening. Because of the erratic driving, Martin's bloodshot eyes, and the persistent odor of alcohol, the officer proceeded to administer field sobriety tests. Martin failed the tests and was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

         {¶5} The trial court suppressed all of the city's evidence, even the evidence supporting the marked lane violation and the driving under suspension. Tr. 66:4-12 (for "the driving under the influence charge, I think that the tests are suppressed. But as it relates to the rest of the stop, I'm thinking your predicate is also suppressed too."). According to the trial court, the marked lane violation that occurred was minor, and therefore, the officer lacked reasonable suspicion justifying the initial traffic stop. Further, the trial court concluded that the officer's observation of the odor of alcohol and bloodshot eyes was insufficient to support a reasonable and articulable suspicion justifying the administration of the field sobriety tests.

         {¶6} Appellate review of a motion to suppress involves mixed questions of law and fact. "When considering a motion to suppress, the trial court assumes the role of trier of fact and is therefore in the best position to resolve factual questions and evaluate the credibility of witnesses." State v. Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, 797 N.E.2d 71, ¶ 8, citing State v. Mills, 62 Ohio St.3d 357, 366, 582 N.E.2d 972 (1992). The trial court's findings of fact must be accepted only if supported by competent, credible evidence. Id., citing State v. Fanning, 1 Ohio St.3d 19, 437 N.E.2d 583 (1982). After "[accepting these facts as true, the appellate court must then independently determine, without deference to the conclusion of the trial court, whether the facts satisfy the applicable legal standard." Id., citing State v. McNamara, 124 Ohio App.3d 706, 707 N.E.2d 539 (4th Dist.1997). The facts are undisputed in this case; the only issue is the application of the facts to the law and the legal conclusions that are drawn from the trial court's review of the evidence.

         {¶7} The trial court erred in suppressing the evidence of Martin's marked lane violation and Martin's admission to driving under suspension. The trial court concluded that a marked lane violation occurred, but that the violation was minimal. It is well settled that "[a]n officer is not required to determine whether someone who has been observed committing a crime might have a legal defense to the charge." State v. Mays, 119 Ohio St.3d 406, 2008-Ohio-4539, 894 N.E.2d 1204, ¶ 17. Martin's sole defense to the traffic violation was that the strength of the city's evidence in support of a marked lane violation was questionable in light of the distorted depiction of the violation in the grainy dashboard camera footage. Although this may be grounds to challenge the merits of the charge, an officer need only form a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime occurred in order to initiate a traffic stop; he need not disprove all potential defenses to the criminal act. Id

         {¶8} In this case, the dashboard camera footage depicted at least two instances when it could not be readily discerned whether a marked lane violation actually occurred. R.C. 4511.33 (A)(1) provides that a vehicle must "be driven, as nearly as is practicable, entirely within a single lane or line of traffic and shall not be moved from such lane or line until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety." The officer believed that he witnessed such a violation, and he testified that although the dashboard camera footage was not clear, it depicted the tire completely crossing the boundary line. The trial court agreed that in at least one of the instances, the footage arguably depicted Martin's vehicle completely violating the boundary of his lane of travel. The initial stop was constitutionally valid.

         {¶9} That the violations appeared minimal or de minimis in nature is irrelevant. Dayton v. Erickson,76 Ohio St.3d 3, 665 N.E.2d 1091 (1996), syllabus. "Trial courts determine whether any violation occurred, not the extent of the violation." (Emphasis sic.) State v. Hodge,147 ...

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