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State v. Klase

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

August 23, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellant
MICHAEL KLASE Defendant-Appellee

          Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2018-CR-3372

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by HEATHER N. JANS, Atty. Reg. No. 0084470 Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellant

          DANIEL B. RHODES, Atty. Reg. No. 0089545, Attorney and Representative for Defendant-Appellee


          FROELICH, J.

         {¶ 1} Pursuant to R.C. 2945.67(A) and Crim.R. 12(K), the State of Ohio appeals from an order of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which granted Michael Klase's motion to suppress. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} The evidence at the suppression hearing consisted of the testimony of Officer Christopher White. His testimony established the following facts.

         {¶ 3} At 6:18 p.m. on August 27, 2018, Officer White was dispatched to the residence of Klase's sister, Pam Snyder, who requested assistance with a mental health situation involving her brother. Mental health calls require two officers, and Officer Caleb Lawson also responded to the scene. Upon arriving, the officers approached Klase, who was calm and not aggressive. Officer White noticed Snyder gesturing to him from the corner of the garage, and he went over to speak with her.

         {¶ 4} Snyder informed Officer White that Klase had been staying with her for a few days and that he was "not acting like himself." Snyder reported that Klase was convinced that there was a conspiracy against him propagated by the neighbors. Klase had also told Snyder that he had had an encounter with the police earlier that day during which the police had shot him, but the bullets went through him because he was invincible. (Officer White testified that no such encounter had occurred.) Klase had also mentioned a woman named Natalie, whom Klase believed was a demonic person with shapeshifting abilities; Klase was adamant that Natalie was going to die and that Klase was going to make sure that it happened that day. Officer White testified that it was unclear whether Natalie was a real or imagined person. Officer White stated that Klase told similar information to Officer Lawson.

         {¶ 5} Officer White testified that he decided to "pink slip" Klase. White stated that a "pink slip" involves emergency hospitalization with a 72-hour hold, pursuant to R.C. 5122.10. White stated that "[a] pink slip is the equivalent of an arrest but the difference is instead of going to jail you go to the hospital where you are evaluated for whatever the issue may be, in this case, mental illness." According to White, scenarios where it is appropriate to take someone to be "pink slipped" include when the person expresses homicidal or suicidal ideation.

         {¶ 6} After speaking with Snyder, Officer White returned to his partner and Klase. White explained to Klase that the officers would be taking him to the hospital. Klase originally was adamant that he was not going to go, partly due to a belief that God would not allow it. Klase sat down on a cot in the garage and asserted that God would not allow him to be removed from the cot; Klase told the officers that they would be stricken down by God if the officers touched him. The officers removed Klase from the cot without any difficulty. Klase became cooperative, and the officers walked Klase to a cruiser without any issues. Officer White stated that he "cut a deal with [Klase] that [the officers] wouldn't handcuff him if he remained cooperative all the way to the hospital."

         {¶ 7} White stated that, because a pink slip is equivalent to an arrest, the officers searched Klase and went through his pockets before placing him the back of the cruiser. The officers found marijuana, a pipe for smoking marijuana, and a "crack pipe" with black residue, which he put in an evidence bag. Officer White further stated that Officer Lawson had found, but did not open, an Altoids container; that container was also placed in the evidence bag. Officer White expressly testified that he conducted a full search, not a pat-down for weapons. He stated that, although Klase was not under arrest due to suspicion of criminal activity, a "pink slip" is treated the same as an arrest.

         {¶ 8} Upon arriving at the hospital, the officers took Klase to an assigned room. Hospital personnel requested that Klase change out of his clothes and into hospital garments. Klase's clothes were placed in a hospital property bag. According to White, per policy, the officers collected Klase's property and placed it off to the side to be provided to the hospital police. Officer White stated that the property would be inventoried by the Dayton officers and/or hospital police. White testified that they decided to help the hospital police with the inventory, and he noticed that Klase had an Altoids container that neither he nor Officer Lawson had opened during the prior search. White opened the tin and found what appeared to be crystal methamphetamine.

         {¶ 9} Officer White later filed misdemeanor charges for possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia (minor misdemeanors). White requested a summons on the possession of drug paraphernalia based on the crack pipe, but he did not know if charges had been filed. White testified that he did not arrest Klase for a criminal offense.

         {¶ 10} On November 6, 2018, Klase was indicted for aggravated possession of drugs (methamphetamine), a felony of the fifth degree. Klase moved to suppress the drugs, and the trial court conducted a hearing during which Officer White testified. The parties filed post-hearing memoranda. In its memorandum, the State asserted that the officers had probable cause "to arrest" Klase under R.C. 5122.10 and possibly for aggravated menacing based on his comments; the State claimed that the search of Klase was authorized as a search incident to a lawful arrest. The State further argued that the subsequent search of the Altoids canister was permissible pursuant to inventory procedures.

         {¶ 11} The trial court granted the motion to suppress, concluding that the State had failed to meet its burden of proving the validity of the warrantless searches for three reasons. The court first concluded that the officers' search did not constitute a search incident to a lawful arrest. It explained:

This argument is flawed for the reason the Defendant Klase was not placed under "arrest" under R.C. 5122.10. By the very terms of this statute, Klase was taken "into custody," not in connection with a criminal charge, but for the noncriminal purpose of "being taken for examination by mental health professionals at a specified mental health facility identified by name." R.C. 5122.10 (C). Indeed, the person taken "into custody" pursuant to this statute must be advised "that the custody-taking is not a criminal arrest." Id.
The State has offered no case law authority in support of the proposition that the "Search Incident to Arrest" Doctrine, which requires an arrest based upon probable cause that the defendant committed a criminal offense, extends to an administrative, noncriminal "custody-taking." Furthermore, R.C. 5122.10 does not itself authorize a warrantless search of the person taken "into custody."

         {¶ 12} Second, the trial court concluded that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest Klase for aggravated menacing.

         {¶ 13} Third, the trial court concluded that the State failed to show that the warrantless search was pursuant to a standardized police department policy for inventory purposes. The court noted that the officer testified that whenever he "pink slips" an individual, he conducts an "inventory search" of the person's belongings before transferring the belongings to the hospital. The court further noted, however, that the officer "never testified the Dayton Police Department has a standardized, routine policy for such inventory searches, what that policy is, and how he acted in conformity with that standardized policy."

         {¶ 14} The State appeals from the trial court's ruling. Its sole assignment of error states, "The trial court erred in finding that the warrantless search of defendant was in violation of the Fourth Amendment and in suppressing the State's evidence."

         II. Review of Suppression Decision

         {¶ 15} In ruling on a motion to suppress, the trial court "assumes the role of the trier of fact, and, as such, is in the best position to resolve questions of fact and evaluate the credibility of the witnesses." State v. Retherford, 93 Ohio App.3d 586, 592, 639 N.E.2d 498 (2d Dist.1994); State v. Knisley, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 22897, 2010-Ohio-116, ¶ 30. Accordingly, when we review suppression decisions, we must accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence. Retherford at 592. "Accepting those facts as true, we must independently determine as a matter of law, without deference to the trial court's conclusion, whether they meet the applicable legal standard." Id.

         {¶ 16} The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Under the community-caretaking/emergency-aid exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, a law-enforcement officer with objectively reasonable grounds to believe that there is an immediate need for his or her assistance to protect life or prevent serious injury may conduct a community-caretaking/emergency-aid stop.[1] State v. Dunn, 131 Ohio St.3d 325, 2012-Ohio-1008, 964 N.E.2d 1037, ¶ 26.

         {¶ 17} Community caretaking functions are "divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute." Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973). Accordingly, Ohio appellate courts generally have held that police officers are not required to possess reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity when exercising community caretaking functions/emergency aid. E.g., State v. Pattin, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 17AP-575, 2018-Ohio-3876, ¶ 10; State v. Norman, 136 Ohio App.3d 46, 54, 735 N.E.2d 953 (3d Dist.1999).

         {¶ 18} "The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 250, 111 S.Ct. 1801, 114 L.Ed.2d 297 (1991). Whether a search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment depends upon the particular facts and circumstances, viewed objectively by examining the totality of the circumstances. State v. Leak, 145 Ohio St.3d 165, 2016-Ohio-154, 47 N.E.3d 821, ¶ 14. To assess the reasonableness of a search, courts must balance the need for the search against the invasions which the search entails. See Terry at 20-21; State v. Polk, 150 Ohio St.3d 29, 2017-Ohio-2735, 78 N.E.3d 834; Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979) ("[T]he permissibility of a particular law enforcement practice is judged by balancing its intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against its promotion of legitimate governmental interests."). In general, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, subject to only a few specific well-established exceptions. Leak at ¶ 15, citing Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009), citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967).

         A. Nature of Klase's Detention

         {¶ 19} The State acknowledges in its reply brief that Klase was not arrested pursuant to criminal activity and that individuals subject to emergency civil commitment, such as Klase, are entitled to Fourth Amendment protections. At issue is the scope of those protections.

         {¶ 20} Under R.C. 5122.10, [2] a police officer may take a person into custody and immediately transport him or her to a hospital if the police officer "has reason to believe that the person is a mentally ill person subject to hospitalization by court order under division (B) of section 5122 .01 of the Revised Code, and represents a substantial risk of physical harm to himself or others if allowed to remain at liberty pending examination." See former R.C. 5122.10; In re J.L, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 26938, 2016-Ohio-5649, ¶ 17.

         {¶ 21} R.C. 5122.10 expressly states that a person subject to emergency hospitalization under that section is not under arrest. The statute provides that "[a] person taking the respondent into custody pursuant to this section shall explain to the respondent: the name and professional designation and affiliation of the person taking the respondent into custody; that the custody-taking is not a criminal arrest; and that the person is being taken for examination by mental health professionals at a specified mental health facility identified by name." (Emphasis added.) Former R.C. 5122.10.

         {¶ 22} Moreover, R.C. 5122.29 specifies certain rights to which "all patients hospitalized or committed pursuant to" R.C. Chapter 5122 are entitled. Those rights generally include, among others, the right to communicate freely with the patient's counsel and physicians; to receive visitors, make telephone calls, and send letters; to wear the patient's own clothes and maintain his or her appearance according to personal taste; to keep and use personal possessions, including toilet articles; to have individual storage space, spending money, and reading materials (without censorship); and to have reasonable privacy, to have social interaction with individuals of either sex, and to the free exercise of religious worship. R.C. 5122.29 further ...

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