Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Mahoning
Criminal Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Mahoning
County, Ohio Case No. 2016 CR 1173.
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,
OPINION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...