CHARACTER OF PROCEEDING: Appeal from the Stark County Court
of Common Pleas, Case No. 2018CR0284
Plaintiff-Appellee: JOHN D. FERRERO, JR. STARK CO. PROSECUTOR
KRISTINE W. BEARD
Defendant-Appellant: AARON KOVALCHIK
JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J.
Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J.
Appellant John Lawrence Hill appeals from the May 25, 2018
judgment entry of the Stark County Court of Common Pleas.
Appellee is the state of Ohio.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
hearing: probable cause to search Smith Street "stash
The following evidence was adduced at the suppression hearing
on April 11, 2018. In his motion to suppress, appellant
asserted the search warrant of his residence was not premised
upon probable cause because the information from a
confidential informant (C.I.) was neither credible nor
Agent Blanc of the Stark Metro Narcotics Unit has worked with
the confidential informant ("C.I.") in this case
since 2012. The C.I. has always provided Blanc with reliable
information, and Blanc made the C.I. available to the Canton
Police Department for use as a C.I. as well. In November
2017, the C.I. approached Blanc to advise that someone
referred to as "Eddie" sold heroin out of a house
in the northwest end of Canton. On a "moving tour"
of the city, the C.I. pointed out an address on Oxford Avenue
Northwest and identified the house as the location of heroin
sales. Through a search of B.M.V. records and utility bills,
appellant was identified as "Eddie."
Throughout December 2017 and January 2018, Metro made a
series of controlled buys from appellant and others at the
Oxford address. Agents obtained and executed a search warrant
for the Oxford address. Blanc then attempted to speak to
appellant but appellant was uncooperative.
Metro became aware of a second location associated with
appellant, at 352 Smith Street, Canton. Appellant is the
A.E.P. account holder at that address. The C.I. made a series
of controlled buys in which they could speak to appellant on
the phone and he would direct them to meet him at a certain
location. Appellant would go to the Smith address in
the meantime, enter the house for several minutes, leave, and
meet the C.I. During these meetings, hand-to-hand narcotics
sales were made.
Metro obtained a tracking warrant allowing them to place a
G.P.S. tracker on a gold pickup truck registered to
appellant. Via the tracking warrant, agents learned appellant
was in "nightly" contact with the Smith address.
The C.I. reported that appellant was also known to drive a
red Dodge Challenger. The C.I. called appellant and set up a
controlled buy; appellant drove to the Smith address in the
red Challenger; appellant then met with the C.I. at a
location he directed them to; and a hand-to-hand transaction
The suppression hearing focused on what Metro knew about the
Smith address. Blanc acknowledged he had no direct evidence
that drugs were inside the house; the C.I. was never inside
the Smith address; and Metro had no knowledge of appellant
selling drugs directly from the house. Nevertheless, Metro
had the circumstantial evidence of appellant stopping at the
house prior to his rendezvous with the C.I.
Blanc obtained a search warrant for the Smith Street address.
He testified that the affidavit contained one factual error:
the affidavit stated two relevant controlled buys were made
on December 14, 2017. In fact, one controlled buy was made on
December 14 and one was made on December 20, 2017.
The search warrant for the Smith address was executed on
February 9, 2018. Metro agents observed the red Challenger
parked outside and waited for appellant to leave. He drove
off and was soon traffic-stopped by previous arrangement with
Canton police. In the meantime, agents entered the house and
found digital scales with white-powder residue on them; a bag
containing one ounce of a "brown rock substance;"
and a bag containing approximately 7 grams of brown powder.
Appellant moved to suppress evidence obtained upon execution
of the Smith Street search warrant, including drug
paraphernalia, carfentanil, and marijuana. The trial court
overruled the motion to suppress, noting that "* * *
while none of the buys occurred inside the Smith Ave
residence, the pattern of traffic by [appellant] to and from
the residence in conjunction with the controlled buys, lead
(sic) officers to reasonably infer that the Smith
residence was being used to stash drugs and drug
paraphernalia commonly used for drug trafficking, thus
providing a nexus between [appellant's] illegal
activities and the residence searched."
trial: Trafficking and possession of carfentanil
The following evidence is adduced from the record of
appellant's jury trial.
Agent Blanc began investigating appellant on November 29,
2017, when a C.I. advised someone known on the street as
"Eddie" was selling heroin out of a house on Oxford
Northwest in the city of Canton. Metro agents identified
"Eddie" as appellant and began surveilling him.
Agents obtained a tracking warrant to place a G.P.S. tracker
on a gold pickup truck appellant was known to drive. Pursuant
to the tracking warrant, agents learned appellant was
"nightly" going to a residence at 352 Smith Street
in Canton. Most of appellant's time was spent at the
Smith Street address. The electric bill for the Smith
residence was in appellant's name and he appeared to live
Appellant stopped driving the gold pickup truck and was
thereafter known to be driving a red Dodge Challenger.
Agents set up a controlled buy from appellant to the C.I. on
February 5, 2018. As a result of the controlled buy, Blanc
sought and obtained a search warrant for the 352 Smith Street
Agents planned to execute the search warrant on February 9,
2018. They surveilled the house beginning around 9:00 a.m.
and observed the red Challenger parked outside. Appellant
left the residence, alone, and was traffic-stopped by prior
arrangement a short distance away. Five cell phones were
found in the vehicle.
Meanwhile, agents executed the search warrant. No one else
was present inside the residence. In the kitchen, agents
found two bags containing brown substances, one hard and one
powder. Agents also found a digital scale with residue on it,
and plastic baggies of the type used for packaging narcotics
in unit doses.
Agents obtained search warrants for the cell phones found in
the Challenger, and Blanc testified to text messages found on
one of the phones, over appellant's objections. The texts
presented by appellee were dated February 9, 2018, and were
received between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. A contact under the name
"Jes Dude" stated, "I'm gonna need a hundo
at about 9 and another hundo after I get my check like
11….just a heads up I will text you when I'm 15
minutes from my crib." Blanc testified a
"hundo" is street parlance for $100 of narcotics.
Another text stated, "I'm going to get my check can
you do a b for 200?" Blanc testified a "b" is
an "8-ball," or 1/2 -ounce of narcotics. Later,
"what a b cost" and, "I got you 200."
Blanc testified this conversation references the sale of
An "Ohio Direction card" was found in a drawer
under one of the digital scales. Blanc testified the card
represents welfare benefits, i.e. food stamps, ...