Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Ashtabula
Criminal Appeal from the Ashtabula County Court of Common
Pleas, Case No. 2018-CR-0094.
Reversed and remanded.
Nicholas A. Iarocci, Ashtabula County Prosecutor, and Shelley
M. Pratt, Assistant Prosecutor, Ashtabula County OH 44047
Lane, Ashtabula County Public Defender, Inc., OH 44004 (For
JANE TRAPP, J.
Appellant, Lyndee A. Benson, appeals her conviction for
aggravated possession of drugs following her no contest plea.
Ms. Benson argues the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas
erred in denying her motion to suppress. We reverse and
remand, having determined from the totality of the
circumstances that once Ms. Benson admitted to having drugs
in her purse and was removed from the vehicle, she was, as
any reasonable person would believe, in custody. Thus, her
statements following her initial admission to the police
should have been suppressed. The trial court made no factual
findings as to the physical evidence from the search of Ms.
Benson's purse that occurred at the same time she was
removed from the vehicle. Thus, the trial court has failed to
provide us with a sufficient basis upon which to determine
whether its decision to not suppress the physical evidence
was supported by competent, credible evidence. We remand on
this limited basis for the trial court to make findings of
fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence adduced at
the suppression hearing as to whether the drugs seized were
the result of an unlawful search.
and Procedural History
Ms. Benson's conviction stems from a traffic stop of a
targeted vehicle in which she was a passenger. Upon the
officer's questioning, she admitted methamphetamine was
in her purse. A search of her purse discovered the drugs.
Ms. Benson was indicted and charged with aggravated
trafficking in drugs, a felony of the fourth degree, and
aggravated possession of drugs, a felony of the fifth degree.
She subsequently filed a motion to suppress, arguing her
statements and the substances found were inadmissible because
she was subjected to a custodial interrogation without any
Ashtabula County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Daniels
("Officer Daniels") was the sole witness at the
hearing. He testified that he was on a special assignment as
a "chase car." This meant he was assigned to a
targeted drug residence and instructed to follow any vehicle
leaving the residence until the vehicle either committed a
traffic violation or led to other investigative sources.
An individual Officer Daniels was familiar with, Ryan
Dougherty, was driving the vehicle. Mr. Dougherty had been
observed dropping off a female on West 38th Street and
circling the block while the female went into a residence.
Officer Daniels was instructed to follow the truck once the
female returned to the vehicle.
Once the truck left the area with the female inside, Officer
Daniels followed the vehicle for approximately one mile
before observing Mr. Dougherty fail to signal while changing
lanes. Officer Daniels initiated a traffic stop, and several
other cruisers appeared on the scene, pulling up behind Mr.
Dougherty's vehicle. These cruisers, at least one
unmarked and two with K-9 officers, were involved in the
chase car operation and on standby in the area. Two of these
officers, Sergeant Trader, an interdiction drug officer with
the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and Officer Hildebrand, an
interdiction drug officer with the Ashtabula City Police,
were the first to approach the vehicle. The K-9 officers,
while available, were never deployed.
Officer Daniels then had a conversation with Ms. Benson,
asking her "* * * where she was coming from. If she knew
the driver. I asked her if there was anything illegal I
should know about inside the vehicle or on her person."
She responded that "There wasn't." He told her
he had observed her moving around the vehicle before the stop
and that it was at that point, Officer Daniels testified, she
"started breathing hard" and became visibly
nervous, failing to make eye contact.
Body Cam Video
The video from the body cam, worn by Officer Daniels and
submitted into evidence, was played during the hearing. The
video is 14 minutes and 34 seconds in length and begins
without audio for approximately one minute. Ms. Benson is
seen sitting in the front passenger seat. She gives her
license to Officer Daniels. Only Officer Daniel's hands,
which are holding her license, are visible. Ms. Benson's
face is obscured by the officer until he reaches toward the
body cam and turns on the audio, shifting his position.
After audio recording begins, Officer Daniels can be heard
telling Ms. Benson, "I can already see how nervous you
are getting. You got something on you." At that point,
Ms. Benson states, "I do." The officers can be
heard asking Ms. Benson "where's it at," and
telling her to "tell the truth," and "be
honest." It is not long before Ms. Benson admits to
having something in her purse. She is told to step out of the
vehicle and leave the purse on the seat.
At this point, Ms. Benson is standing outside the vehicle.
Sergeant Trader opens the driver's side of the vehicle
and retrieves her purse. The other two officers are
surrounding Ms. Benson, and multiple police cruisers are
behind the vehicle. She admits to having "speed" in
her purse, no needles, and "nothing else." An
officer asks her where she got it and then tells her,
"this is where your honesty is really going to help me
Ms. Benson tells the officers she "got it from a friend
to give to a friend" and was doing a favor for a
"friend." The officers inquire as to her driver,
Mr. Dougherty, who she disclaimed knowing, stating he was
simply "a ride" and had "no idea what she was
doing." The officers keep questioning who the friend was
and how she knew where to go, urging her "to be
honest," and stating, "this is the time to be
honest, think about what we are asking you." Ms. Benson
does not reply, appears visibly nervous and chokes back
An officer then asks her how often she goes over
"there" to do friends a "favor."
Eventually, the officer's questioning elicits an
admission that the drugs belonged to the daughter of Ms.
Benson's aunt [Ms. Benson's cousin], who told her to
drop the drugs off to an individual who would meet her in a
nearby park. The unknown individual would approach her, and
no money would be exchanged.
The officers interject statements with their questioning,
such as: "you can tell us who it was from,"
"we won't go run and tell them, that's not what
this is about," and "the best thing you can do is
be honest, we already know a lot of what we are going to
find." When asked about her personal drug use, she
admits she smokes or did smoke marijuana.
Sargent Trader interrupts the questioning and again asks Ms.
Benson how she knows Mr. Dougherty. She repeats that Mr.
Dougherty is simply giving her a ride. Sergeant Trader
informs Officer Daniels that one of them (Ms. Benson or Mr.
Dougherty) is lying since their stories are not the same. He
continues to ask her how she knows Mr. Dougherty and through
which mutual acquaintances. Officer Daniels interjects with
the name, "Donny," and the officers continue to
interrogate her as to whether Mr. Dougherty is friends with
Donny, and "Donny who."
Ms. Benson raises her hands to her face and says, "I
can't even…I can't have both of
you…." Officer Daniels says, "Okay, we will
just let him talk to you," pointing to Sergeant Trader.
After several more questions, Sergeant Trader walks away,
saying within earshot of Ms. Benson, "does she want to
go to jail?" Officer Daniels asks her again, "who
did she get this methamphetamine from?"
After several more questions as to whom she was meeting,
Officer Hildeband asks her if "she would be willing to
go back there to buy more 'ice' for the police?"
Ms. Benson replies this is her aunt's house, so she does
not know. He then asks her how much methamphetamine was at
the house. She says, she "doesn't know," and
that "she [her aunt] had what was left and put it on a
scale and handed it to her and said, "when I got kicked
out of my ex's house, she let me stay in Ohio Village and
she just said I owed her a favor." Officer Daniels then
asks, "What do you guys want to do with her?"
The officers discuss taking her to the station and charging
her with possession. They then again question Ms. Benson
about whom she was meeting and where. Dispatch can be heard
over the questioning, "For clarity, they came out of a
different residence than our target residence, just so you
guys know." Officer Daniels continues questioning her as
to whom "she was meeting; what she was supposed to do,
and how it was that guy even now knows who she was even
meeting?" She describes what her aunt instructed her to
do. Then an officer states, "And now you are getting
charged with possession of drugs * * * and trafficking * *
As two of the officers walk away, one asks Ms. Benson if she
"knows where her aunt is getting "it" [the
drugs] from. The officer then shows the drugs to a woman in
the front seat of one of the cruisers, telling her it was
"meth, crystal, it comes out of Mexico." The video
ends with Ms. Benson with her head in her hands and the
officers standing around the scene discussing what they
should do next.
Ms. Benson was never placed under arrest, was never
handcuffed, and was never given Miranda warnings.
The trial court denied Ms. Benson's motion to suppress
all evidence finding that on review of the testimony and
evidence presented, "it does not appear that this was a
custodial interrogation necessitating Miranda
Ms. Benson entered a written plea of no contest to aggravated
possession of drugs, in violation of R.C.
2925.11(A)(C)(1)(a), a felony of the fifth degree. The
aggravated trafficking in drugs count was dismissed. The
court sentenced Ms. Benson to two years of community control,
Ms. Benson now timely appeals, raising the following
assignment of error:
"The trial court erred when overruling Appellant's
motion to suppress."
to Suppress Standard of Review
We give due deference to the trial court's assignment of
weight and inferences drawn from the evidence when ruling on
a motion to suppress on appeal. (Citations omitted.)
State v. Starcovic, 11th Dist. Portage No.
2007-P-0081, 2008-Ohio-2758, ¶10, citing State v.
Wilson, 11th Dist. Ashtabula No. 2007-A-0044,
Thus, appellate review of a motion to suppress presents a
mixed question of law and fact. (Citations omitted.)
Id. at ¶11, citing Wilson at ¶12.
"The appellate court must accept the trial court's
factual findings, provided they are supported by competent,
credible evidence. * * * Thereafter, the appellate court must
independently determine whether those factual findings meet
the requisite legal standard. Id., citing
Wilson at ¶12, citing State v.
Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, ¶8.
We review the trial court's application of the law de
novo. Id., citing State v. Zaken, 11th
Dist. Ashtabula No. 2006-A-0036, 2007-Ohio-2306, ¶14.
Ms. Benson raises a single issue in her assignment of error,
contending that the trial court erred in ruling she was not
subjected to a custodial interrogation that required
"In Miranda [v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436], at 444,
* * * the United States Supreme Court established procedural
safeguards for securing the privilege against
self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the
United States Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution makes the privilege against
self-incrimination applicable to a witness in a state
proceeding." Cleveland v. Oles, 152 Ohio St.3d
1, 2017-Ohio-5834, ¶8, citing Malloy v. Hogan,
378 U.S. 1, 3 (1964). "A similar privilege is recognized
in Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution."
"What are now commonly known as Miranda
warnings are intended to protect a suspect from the coercive
pressure present during a custodial interrogation."
Id. at ¶9, citing Miranda at 469.
"A custodial interrogation is 'questioning initiated
by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken
into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action
in any significant way.'" Id., quoting
Miranda at 444. "If a suspect provides
responses while in custody without having first been informed
of his or her Miranda rights, the responses may not
be admitted at trial as evidence of guilt."
Id., quoting Miranda at 479.
"Any statement, question or remark which is
'reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating
response' is an interrogation." State v.
Knuckles, 65 Ohio St.3d 494, 495 (1992), citing
Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301 (1980). The
questions asked of Ms. Benson were designed to elicit
Ms. Benson was a suspect from the outset. Officer Daniels was
instructed to follow Mr. Dougherty's truck once the
female he dropped off at a target drug house returned to the
vehicle. Officer Daniels had suspicions based on facts and
circumstances that occurred prior to the stop and which laid
a legitimate foundation for the initial, basic questions
posed to Ms. Benson while she was in the passenger seat of
the vehicle. The same cannot be said of the questions posed
after she was removed from the vehicle.
While "[p]olice officers are not responsible for
unforeseeable incriminating responses," the initial
questions were designed and reasonably likely to elicit
incriminating statements. Ms. Benson was a target since she
was seen in the vicinity of a known drug house and was
followed by the officers until they had probable cause to
stop the vehicle for a traffic law violation. State v.
Strozier, 172 Ohio App.3d 780, 2007-Ohio-4575, ¶20
After Ms. Benson made her initial incriminating statements,
she was removed from the vehicle and her pursed immediately
searched. At this point from the video, it appears the only
legitimate basis for this search was incident to arrest. And
it is at this point we determine the interrogation became a
does questioning after a traffic stop become a ...