from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (C.P.C. No.
O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Michael P. Walton, for
appellee. Argued: Michael P. Walton.
W. Barstow, for appellant. Argued: Todd W. Barstow.
1} Defendant-appellant, Shaniece M. Cox, appeals an
entry of judgment reflecting conviction of possession of
heroin and tampering with evidence having been found guilty
by a jury and an overall sentence of four years in prison for
these crimes. Cox also challenges pretrial decisions of the
trial court not to suppress incriminatory statements she made
to the police and physical evidence recovered from her purse
by the police. Because Cox was read the requisite
Miranda warnings and because she volunteered that
she had contraband in her purse, we find that her voluntary
statements and the fruits of the related search were lawfully
admitted into evidence at trial. We also find that her
convictions were sufficiently supported by the evidence and
not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.
Accordingly, we affirm.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
2} On January 16, 2015, a Franklin County Grand Jury
charged Cox and a co-defendant, Kareem Jones, with possession
of heroin and tampering with evidence. (Jan. 16, 2015
Indictment.) The indictment included a one-year firearm
specification for the possession charge. Id.
3} The defense filed motions to suppress on December
1, 2015 and May 19, 2017 seeking exclusion of statements made
by Cox to police and (in the second motion only) exclusion of
physical evidence recovered by the police from Cox's
purse. (Dec. 1, 2015 Mot. to Suppress; May 19, 2017 Mot. to
Suppress.) The trial court held two hearings on the motions,
one on July 12, 2016 and one on May 23, 2017. At both
hearings, Ohio State Highway Patrol ("OSHP")
Trooper, Kristi Comstock, testified and a video of the
interaction between Cox and Comstock was shown in court to
the trial judge. (Tr. at 7-26, 37-50, filed Sept. 1, 2017;
Defense's Ex. 1.) At the second hearing, another OSHP
Trooper, Christopher Jackson, also testified. (Tr. at 50-84.)
4} Jackson testified that on August 5, 2014, shortly
after midnight, he attempted to stop a car for speeding in a
construction zone. Id. at 51-53. He testified that
the car did not stop when he activated his lights, and
instead turned off the freeway and proceeded into downtown
Columbus. Id. at 52-53. At some point during the
chase, he saw someone throw either one or two pistols from
the moving car (his testimony varied somewhat between the
suppression hearing and trial as to what he remembered
actually seeing versus what he inferred from the fact that
two pistols were recovered from the side of the road).
Id. at 53-54, 136-39, 162-65. Officer Jackson
explained that while arresting the driver, Jones, he found a
large sum of money in Jones' pocket. Id. at 65.
He testified that he was not involved in securing Cox but is
aware that her purse, which was located in the back seat of
the car, was searched and a second large sum of money and two
bags of heroin were found. Id. at 58-59. He also
mentioned that the car was towed because neither Cox nor
Jones was the owner of the vehicle and he was unable to
verify that either had the owner's permission to operate
it. Id. at 58.
5} Comstock testified that she arrived after the
chase was over and helped secure the suspects as well as to
search them and the car. Id. at 7-8. She testified
that Cox was handcuffed by unknown members of the Columbus
Police Department and placed in the back of her patrol car.
Id. at 8-11. Her testimony varied somewhat about
whether Cox was asked any questions before being read the
Miranda warnings. Id. at 25, 39-40. Video
from her cruiser (which was played during the suppression
hearings) reveals that before the Miranda warnings
were given, Columbus police officers told Comstock that Cox
had "weed" in her purse, whereupon, Cox volunteered
that she had "weed" in the car and her purse.
(State's Ex. E at 00:17:58-00:18:13; Tr. at 9-10.) Based
on what Comstock claimed were safety reasons, Comstock
questioned Cox about whether she had anything "stuffed
down in" her (to which Cox responded negatively).
(State's Ex. E at 00:18:00-00:18:13; Tr. at 39-40.)
Comstock also asked some identifying questions of Cox.
(State's Ex. E at 00:18:41-00:18:51.) Cox responded to
questions about her identification by volunteering that her
identification was in her purse. Id. Then the video
reflects (and Comstock testified) that she read Cox the
Miranda warnings and Cox verbally said that she
understood her rights. (Tr. at 12-13; Defense's Ex. 1 at
6} The parties stipulated that immediately after
reading Cox the Miranda warnings, no significant
questioning took place until approximately one hour later.
(Tr. at 43.) As Comstock drove Cox to the OSHP trooper post,
she interviewed Cox. (Defense's Ex. 1 at
01:32:59-01:41:48.) During the drive, Cox told Comstock that
Jones fled from the police because she told him to.
(State's Ex. E at 01:32:59-01:33:22.) Cox explained that
she was scared because she had all her money with her and had
her guns with her. Id. at 01:33:40-01:35:08. She
also stated that Jones knew nothing about these items.
Id. In a portion of the video not introduced at
trial but proffered in defense's exhibit No. 1, when
questioned about drugs, Cox appeared completely unaware that
heroin was found in her purse. (Defense's Ex. 1 at
01:38:40-01:41:48.) She said that the only drug she consumed
was "weed" and stated that she told officers about
the "weed" in her purse. Id. at
01:38:40-01:39:27. Though the audio portion of the video is
hard to discern, it appears that shortly thereafter, Cox
stated that Jones used heroin. Id. at
01:39:27-01:40:00. Just before entering the post, Comstock
asked Cox if there was anything illegal in her purse.
Id. at 01:41:30-01:41:36. Cox responded that there
was nothing else illegal in her purse and the police could
check and even "rip it up" to see for themselves.
Id. at 01:41:35-01:41:48.
7} The trial court orally denied both motions to
suppress at the end of each hearing and trial of the case
began on June 12, 2017. (Tr. at 32-33, 83.) At trial, the
video was again shown in court, this time, in some relevant
parts, and five witnesses testified. See, e.g., id.
at 145, 149, 191, 203-36. Two expert witnesses provided
testimony that can be briefly summarized: The first was a
crime lab scientist who determined that the substance found
in two packages in Cox's purse was a total of
approximately 49 grams of heroin. (Tr. at 249-50; State's
Ex. A2.) The second expert was an officer who determined that
the two pistols recovered from the chase scene were operable.
(Tr. at 275-82; State's Exs. B2, C2.) This witness also
testified that in 2014, heroin sold for approximately $1, 100
per ounce and that an ounce is 28 grams. (Tr. at 282.) The
three remaining witnesses who testified for the State at
trial were Jackson, Comstock, and an OSHP supervisor who
witnessed Cox write a statement at the OSHP post.
8} Jackson and Comstock testified to approximately
the same facts (albeit in more detail) that they related
during the suppression hearings. Jackson testified that he
was on patrol on August 5, 2014, when he saw a speeder,
engaged in a short chase, observed a gun thrown from the car,
and ultimately stopped the speeder. (Tr. at 117-29.) He
confirmed that two pistols were found along the pursuit path
of the car, that heroin was recovered from Cox's purse,
that approximately $2, 000 was found in Jones' pocket,
and that approximately $6, 000 was found in Cox's purse.
Id. at 136-44. He acknowledged that he could only
remember seeing one pistol thrown from the passenger side of
the vehicle but his written report noted that another was
thrown also. Id. at 162-65. He admitted that the car
he was pursuing had window tint preventing him from seeing
what was going on inside the car. Id. at 172. He
agreed that the passenger side window of the fleeing car
could have been rolled down using the driver's side
window controls. Id. at 182. He confirmed that
neither Cox nor Jones was the registered owner of the car and
that three small baggies of marijuana were recovered from the
floorboards of the vehicle. Id. at 180-81, 185.
9} Comstock testified that she responded to the
scene of the stop following a radio call from Jackson.
Id. at 202-03. She reported that Cox said she had
"weed" in her purse and invited officers to
retrieve her identification from the purse. Id. at
208-10. Comstock recounted that in her search of the purse
she found heroin and a large amount of cash, not
"weed." Id. at 208, 212-14, 217. However,
she admitted that marijuana was found on the floorboards of
the car. Id. at 214.
10} The final fact witness for the State, the OSHP
supervisor who witnessed Cox giving a statement at the OSHP
post, testified that he was summoned to the scene of the
pursuit on August 5, 2014 at approximately 1:00 a.m.
Id. at 252-53. He testified that, in the course of
supervising his officers, he met Cox at the stop and then
participated in an interview of Cox back at the OSHP post.
Id. at 254. During this interview he witnessed Cox
write the statement appearing in state's exhibit H.
Id. at 254-57. However, he admitted that neither Cox
nor any interviewing officer signed the statement and he did
not watch her write the entire thing. Id. But he
said that when he was intermittently in the interview room he
saw her working on writing it. Id. That statement,
which was read into evidence, is:
I was leaving the apartment 6043 Lakeclub pl. gathered all my
things and once I left the apartment that my boyfriend picked
me up from we where on our way to his sisters house. And
thats when the cops got behind us I had 2 weapons witch was
from my apartment that I had for protection. My boyfriend
didn't know I had it So I told him to keep drivin and
thats when I threw the fire arms out the window cause I was
scared very scared and my boy friend new nothing about it
until I threw them out. The money was mines that I have been
saving up. Had to take it with me when I moved out the
apartment I had no bank account.
(Sic passim.) (State's Ex. H); see also Tr. at
11} During closing, the defense argued that the
heroin, money, and guns belonged to Jones and that he had,
unbeknownst to Cox, hidden the heroin and some cash in her
purse during the pursuit and had, himself, flung the guns
from the car since they were too big for him to hide in the
purse. (Tr. at 325-40.) The prosecution argued that whether
the heroin and guns were Cox's or whether she was hiding
and trying to dispose of them for Jones, she was guilty
either as a primary violator or as an aider and abettor.
Id. at 323, 344.
12} After approximately one-half day of
deliberating, the jury indicated that it was "unable to
reach a unanimous verdict" on the heroin possession
count. (Tr. at 366.) The trial court orally instructed the
jury on the record, "I really don't think you've
deliberated long enough to really give up." Id.
The trial court then declared a recess. Id. On the
afternoon of the following day, July 16, 2017, the jury
announced a verdict of guilty on all charges and
specifications. Id. at 368-74.
13} Approximately three weeks later, on August 4,
2017, the trial court held a sentencing hearing. Id.
at 381. The trial court considered that Cox had no prior
criminal record and a low chance of recidivism but also that
Cox apparently shielded Jones from criminal liability by
"taking the blame for all this." Id. at
392. It then sentenced Cox to three years for possession of
heroin plus a consecutive one-year gun specification and two
concurrent years on the tampering with evidence charge for a
total of four years in prison. Id.