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State v. Barnett

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Mahoning

June 22, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
RUFUS BARNETT, Defendant-Appellee.

          Criminal Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Mahoning County, Ohio Case No. 2016 CR 1173.

          Atty. Paul Gains, Prosecutor and Atty. Ralph Rivera, Assistant Prosecutor, for Plaintiff-Appellant, and Atty. Bradley G. Olson, Jr., for Defendant-Appellee.

          BEFORE: Gene Donofrio, Cheryl L. Waite, Carol Ann Robb, Judges.


          Donofrio, J.

         {¶1} Plaintiff-appellant, the State of Ohio, appeals from a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judgment granting a motion to suppress evidence obtained when officers of the Youngstown Police Department impounded and subsequently searched the vehicle of defendant-appellee, Rufus Barnett.

         {¶2} The facts in this case are undisputed. Officers Savnik and Caraway from the Youngstown Police Department were patrolling the south side of the city of Youngstown on October 11, 2016. Around 1:00 a.m., Officers Savnik and Caraway began to follow appellee's car as it was traveling down Oak Hill Avenue (Oak Hill) towards Mahoning Avenue (Mahoning). Officers Savnik and Caraway followed appellee's car for several blocks totaling around 200 yards. At this point, the officers did not observe appellee commit any traffic violations.

         {¶3} When appellee arrived at the intersection of Oak Hill and Mahoning (intersection), Officers Savnik and Caraway were still following him. Oak Hill ends at this intersection. At Mahoning, Oak Hill heading north turns into two lanes, the left lane to travel on Mahoning away from downtown Youngstown and the right lane to travel on Mahoning towards downtown Youngstown. On the right hand side of the intersection on Oak Hill is a traffic sign that indicates the left lane is a left-turn only lane and the right lane is a straight-bound lane. Despite the traffic sign indicating the right lane as a straight-bound lane, a slight right turn must be negotiated when traveling from Oak Hill to Mahoning heading towards downtown Youngstown. Additionally, there is a traffic sign at the intersection facing Oak Hill that reads "No Turn on Red." When appellee arrived at the intersection, he moved into the right lane and the traffic light was red. Appellee did not have a turn signal on when he arrived at the intersection.

         {¶4} After coming to a complete stop at the intersection, when the light turned green, appellee activated his right turn signal and proceeded on Mahoning into downtown Youngstown. Officers Savnik and Caraway initiated a traffic stop of appellee for a violation of R.C. 4511.39 in that appellee did not have his turn signal activated for at least 100 feet prior to performing a turn.

         {¶5} Officer Savnik then began talking to appellee. Officer Savnik asked appellee for his operator's license but appellee could not produce his license and instead gave Officer Savnik his name and date of birth. Officer Savnik checked appellee's name through the LEADS system which indicated that appellee was under an FRA license suspension. As appellee was the only person in the car, Officer Savnik frisked appellee for weapons, placed appellee in the back of his squad car, had appellee's car impounded, and called a tow truck to retrieve the car.

         {¶6} After appellee's car was impounded, Officer Savnik performed an administrative inventory search of the car. Officer Savnik discovered a package containing what he believed was heroin in the door panel of the passenger side of appellee's car. Officer Savnik then arrested and charged appellee with possession of heroin in violation of R.C. 2925.11(C)(6)(a), a felony of the fifth degree, and had appellee transported to the Mahoning County Jail.

         {¶7} Appellee filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of his car. The basis for the motion was that appellee substantially complied with the requirements of R.C. 4511.39 in that he signaled his intention to make a turn prior to making a turn. Moreover, appellee argued that the "spirit" of R.C. 4511.39 is not violated simply because a person may fail to signal an intention to make a turn prior to 100 feet before the turn is made. Appellee argued that because the stop was unlawful, the evidence should have been suppressed. In the alternative, appellee argued that even if the traffic stop was valid, he was made subject to an unlawful arrest because neither R.C. 4511.39 nor driving under an FRA suspension warranted an arrest as appellee was placed in the back of Officer Savnik's cruiser.

         {¶8} The state's response to appellee's motion to suppress argued that Officers Savnik and Caraway witnessed a traffic violation and had sufficient reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop of appellee. Additionally, the state argued that pursuant to the Youngstown Municipal Code and case law, Officer Savnik had authority to impound appellee's vehicle and perform an inventory search under the circumstances surrounding appellee's traffic stop.

         {¶9} At the end of the suppression hearing, the trial court instructed counsel for both the state and appellee to provide the court with additional written arguments pertaining to appellee's duty to signal at the intersection. The trial court seemed to want more information regarding appellee's duty to signal a turn when the posted traffic device indicates the lane is straight-bound. (Supp. Tr. at 55).

         {¶10} Appellee then filed a supplemental brief after the suppression hearing. In his supplemental brief, appellee argued that because the signage at the intersection labeled appellee's lane of travel as a straight-bound lane, appellee was under no obligation to signal a turn.

         {¶11} After appellee's supplemental brief was filed, the state filed a motion to reopen the suppression hearing on the basis that appellee was now raising new arguments not addressed in appellee's original motion to suppress. The record does not indicate that the trial court ruled on this motion but the state did not raise this issue for appeal.

         {¶12} Ultimately, the state did file a supplemental brief arguing again that because appellee had to physically turn his car to the right on Mahoning from Oak Hill, appellee was required to use his turn signal. In the alternative, the state argued that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied because Officers Savnik and Caraway reasonably believed they witnessed appellee commit a traffic violation.

         {¶13} The state also filed a motion to admit stipulations of facts. The motion contained two facts to supplement the facts elicited at the suppression hearing. Those facts were: a standard traffic light exists at the intersection where a 45 degree right angle existed on the green light and a "No Turn on Red" sign was present at the intersection. There was no apparent ruling on this motion either, but appellee has never contested these facts.

         {¶14} On March 10, 2017, the trial court granted appellee's motion to suppress and ruled that any and all evidence gathered as a result of appellee's traffic stop was to be suppressed. The trial court reasoned that appellee was not required to signal a turn because of the street sign indicating that his lane of travel was a straight-bound lane and that the good faith exception did not apply due to the lack of sufficient ...

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