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State v. Ramos

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

September 6, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
RICHARD RAMOS Defendant-Appellant

          Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2018-CR-1266

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by SARAH E. HUTNIK, Atty. Reg. No. 0095900, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          SEAN BRINKMAN, Atty. Reg. No. 0088253, 10 Attorney for Defendant-Appellant


          WELBAUM, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Richard Ramos, appeals from his conviction in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas after a jury found him guilty of aggravated possession of drugs. In support of his appeal, Ramos contends that the trial court erred by admitting certain drug evidence at trial on grounds that the State failed to establish a continuous chain of custody necessary to identify the drug evidence as the same substance that was recovered from his vehicle. Ramos also contends that his conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence and was against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons outlined below, the judgment of the trial court will be affirmed.

         Facts and Course of Proceedings

         {¶ 2} On April 17, 2018, Ramos was indicted for one count of aggravated possession of drugs in violation of R.C. 2925.11(A), a felony of the fifth degree. The charge arose after officers from the Kettering Police Department discovered 0.18 grams of methamphetamine in Ramos's vehicle during a traffic stop. Ramos pled not guilty to the charge and the matter proceeded to a jury trial. At trial, the State presented several witnesses, including Kettering Detective Amy Pedro, Kettering Police Officers Brian Robinson, Jesse Anderson, Eric Hall, and Devin Maloney, and forensic chemist Beth Underwood. The following is a summary of their trial testimony.

         {¶ 3} Detective Pedro testified that she was a narcotics unit detective with the City of Kettering Police Department. Pedro testified that during her 11 years as a Kettering officer, she had been involved in hundreds of traffic stops that involved the recovery of drugs. During the early morning hours of October 20, 2017, she was conducting undercover surveillance when she happened to observe a vehicle make an improper, wide turn from Willamet Road onto northbound Wilmington Pike. Pedro testified that, as the vehicle continued on Wilmington Pike, she observed the vehicle swerve across traffic lanes twice. Based on these observations, Pedro believed the driver of the vehicle was impaired and requested a traffic stop. Pedro testified that she did not conduct the traffic stop herself because she was driving an unmarked vehicle and was wearing plainclothes.

         {¶ 4} Kettering Police Officer Brian Robinson testified that he received Detective Pedro's request for a traffic stop from dispatch and attempted to locate the vehicle in question. Shortly after receiving this request, Robinson observed a vehicle matching the description given by Pedro at the intersection of Patterson Road and Smithville Road in the city of Dayton. Robinson testified that Kettering officers have concurrent jurisdiction in Dayton.

         {¶ 5} After Officer Robinson confirmed that the vehicle had the same license plate and was the same model and color as the vehicle observed by Detective Pedro, Robinson observed the vehicle turn right from Smithville Road onto Patterson Road. Robinson testified that as the vehicle was making that turn, he observed both of the vehicle's driver-side tires cross the double yellow line into the opposite lane of traffic. Following this lane violation, Robinson initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle near Patterson Road and Grace Avenue.

         {¶ 6} Officer Robinson testified that Officers Jesse Anderson and Eric Hall arrived at the scene shortly after he initiated the traffic stop. Robinson testified that he approached the passenger side of the vehicle while Anderson simultaneously approached the driver side. At that time, Robinson observed a male in the driver seat, later identified as Ramos, and a female in the front passenger seat, later identified as Megan Denny. Robinson testified that, as he explained the reason for the traffic stop, he noticed that Ramos appeared to be nervous. Robinson specifically recalled Ramos stuttering and talking very fast. Robinson testified that Ramos's nervousness was inconsistent with the nervousness that motorists normally exhibit when being pulled over. This, according to Robinson, led him to believe that there was possibly more going on than just a minor traffic violation. Robinson claimed that the passenger, Denny, did not appear to be nervous.

         {¶ 7} Continuing, Officer Robinson testified that Ramos was initially uncooperative when he asked for him to turn off his vehicle and handover his keys. Robinson also testified that Ramos was initially uncooperative when he asked him to exit the vehicle. However, Robinson testified that Ramos eventually complied with his commands. As Ramos exited the vehicle, Robinson testified that he moved to the driver's side of the vehicle with Officer Anderson, and that Officer Hall took his position at the passenger side and watched Denny.

         {¶ 8} Officer Anderson testified that, after Ramos exited the vehicle, he conducted a consensual pat-down search of Ramos's person. Anderson also testified that Ramos appeared to be either nervous or on a stimulant because Ramos's hands were shaking during the pat down. Anderson testified that he asked Ramos why he was shaking and that Ramos indicated it was due to a back injury.

         {¶ 9} While Officers Anderson and Robinson made contact with Ramos outside the vehicle, the passenger, Denny, remained seated in the vehicle's passenger seat. During this time, Officer Hall testified that he maintained sight of Denny. While maintaining sight of Denny, Hall testified that he stood one foot away from where Denny was sitting and watched her hands. Officer Hall testified that he did not observe Denny make any unusual gestures or movements. Rather, Hall claimed that Denny's behavior was normal and calm throughout the traffic stop.

         {¶ 10} As Officer Anderson watched Ramos, and as Officer Hall watched Denny, Officer Robinson went to his cruiser to run Ramos's and Denny's information. During that time, Robinson requested the assistance of a K-9 unit. Robinson testified that the K-9 unit, Officer Devin Maloney and his German Shepard Jax, arrived at the scene shortly after the request. Robinson and Maloney testified that Maloney walked Jax around the exterior of the vehicle to conduct a free air sniff. Both officers testified that Jax alerted on the vehicle, indicating the presence of narcotics at the front driver-side door.

         {¶ 11} Following Jax's alert, Officer Maloney testified that he opened the front driver-side door and searched the vehicle. Upon opening the door, Maloney testified that he observed a chunk of suspected methamphetamine sitting on the driver seat. Officer Robinson testified that he also observed the suspected methamphetamine on the driver seat where Ramos had been sitting. Robinson described the suspected methamphetamine as a "crystal cloudy substance." Trial Trans. (Oct. 9, 2018), p. 36. Robinson testified that he also discovered small pieces of suspected methamphetamine on the driver-side floorboard. However, no drugs were discovered in the passenger side of the vehicle.

         {¶ 12} After the suspected drugs were discovered in the vehicle, the officers arrested Ramos and released Denny. Ramos was then booked into jail where he made a jailhouse phone call to his mother. The State presented portions of that recorded call, during which Ramos indicated that the vehicle was titled in his name. Detective Pedro testified that she confirmed through the LEADS system that Ramos was the registered owner of the vehicle. During the jailhouse call, Ramos also told his mother that three "fingernails" of methamphetamine were found inside his vehicle. State's Exhibit 4(A). At no point during the call did Ramos claim the methamphetamine belonged to Denny. Rather, Ramos told his mother that the officers had planted the methamphetamine there. To show that such conduct by the four ...

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