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State v. Hill

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Stark

August 5, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
JOHN LAWRENCE HILL Defendant-Appellant

          CHARACTER OF PROCEEDING: Appeal from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2018CR0284



          For Defendant-Appellant: AARON KOVALCHIK

          JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J.


          DELANEY, J.

         {¶1} 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.


         Suppression hearing: probable cause to search Smith Street "stash house"

         {¶2} 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 reliable.

         {¶3} 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."

         {¶4} 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.

         {¶5} 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.[1] 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.

         {¶6} 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 occurred.

         {¶7} 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.

         {¶8} 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.

         {¶9} 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.

         {¶10} 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."

         Jury trial: Trafficking and possession of carfentanil

         {¶11} The following evidence is adduced from the record of appellant's jury trial.

         {¶12} 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 there alone.

         {¶13} Appellant stopped driving the gold pickup truck and was thereafter known to be driving a red Dodge Challenger.

         {¶14} 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 residence.

         {¶15} 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.

         {¶16} 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.

         {¶17} 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 narcotics.

         {¶18} 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, ...

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