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State v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Williams

June 28, 2019

State of Ohio Appellee
James E. Thomas Appellant

          Trial Court No. 18CR000018

          Katherine J. Zartman, Williams County Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Karin L. Coble, for appellant.


          SINGER, J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, James Thomas, appeals from the August 6, 2018 judgment of the Williams County Court of Common Pleas convicting him, following acceptance of his guilty plea, to: one count of aggravated possession of drugs (R.C. 2925.11(A)(C)(1)(a), a felony of the fifth degree); one count of aggravated possession of drugs (R.C. 2925.11(A)(C)(1)(c), a felony of the second degree) with a firearm specification; having a weapon under a disability (R.C. 2923.13(A)(2), a felony of the third degree); receiving stolen property (R.C. 2913.51(A)(C), a felony of the fourth degree); and improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle (R.C. 2923.16(B), a felony of the fourth degree). Appellant was sentenced to an aggregate prison term of six years. For the reasons which follow, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

         {¶ 2} On appeal, appellant asserts the following assignments of error: Assignment of Error One: Because the officer who effected the traffic stop admitted that no traffic violation occurred, the trial court erred in upholding the validity of the stop.

Assignment of Error Two: The imposition of consecutive sentences is not supported by the record.
Assignment of Error Three: The imposition of appointed counsel fees and the costs of confinement should be vacated where appellant is unable to pay.

         {¶ 3} In his first assignment of error, appellant argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of an alleged unlawful vehicle stop. He asserts the stop was not valid because the officer who initiated the stop admitted that no traffic violation had occurred.

         {¶ 4} A Crim.R. 12(C)(3) motion to suppress presents a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Hairston, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-1622, ¶ 60, quoting State v. Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, 797 N.E.2d 71, ¶ 8. The appellate court defers to the trial court's evaluation of the credibility of witnesses and determination of the questions of fact which are supported by competent and credible evidence but conducts a de novo review of application of the law to the facts. Hairston, quoting Burnside.

         {¶ 5} Generally, searches or seizures that occur "outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment--subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 390, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978), quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967) (footnotes omitted). The burden of establishing an exception to the warrant requirement is on the prosecution. State v. Banks-Harvey, 152 Ohio St.3d 368, 2018-Ohio-201, 96 N.E.3d 262, ¶ 18.

         {¶ 6} A warrantless seizure may be reasonable if it is based upon objective, probable cause that the person has committed a crime. Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 498, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983). "Probable cause" means more than a reasonable suspicion but less than the evidence needed to convict an individual of a crime. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 235, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983); State v. Steele, 138 Ohio St.3d 1, 2013-Ohio-2470, 3 N.E.3d 135, ¶ 26. Where an officer has probable cause to believe a driver committed a traffic violation, the stop is reasonable, State v. Mays, 119 Ohio St.3d 406, 2008-Ohio-4539, 894 N.E.2d 1204, ¶ 22. The relevant inquiry is whether the officer's observed facts and circumstances were "sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that a traffic violation had occurred. Id.

         {¶ 7} Where an officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe a passenger in an automobile has an outstanding warrant for his arrest, the officer may lawfully stop the vehicle to make an arrest. United States v. Savath, 398 Fed.Appx. 237, 239 (9th Cir.2010), sentence vacated on other grounds, 300 F.Supp. 1215, 1225 (2018); United States v. Ellison, 462 F.3d 557, 563 (6th Cir.2006); United States v. O'Connor, 658 F.2d 688, 691 (9th Cir.1981); United States v. Neemann, 61 F.Supp.2d 944, 951 (D.Neb.1999) (reasonable suspicion is sufficient to stop a car briefly to determine if a passenger was the person subject to an outstanding warrant); Johnson v. Grob, 928 F.Supp. 889, 902 (W.D.Mo.1996).

         {¶ 8} At the motion to suppress hearing, Officer Korkis testified that, prior to February 2, 2018, he recalled examining an active felony arrest warrant for appellant, received from the Bryan Police Department, and photographs of appellant posted at the station. The officer was also personally familiar with appellant because the officer had ...

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