Police Cannot Search Legally Parked Cars Without A Warrant
In 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a ruling that declared that the police cannot search legally parked cars without a warrant. The arrest of an occupant of the vehicle does not, by itself, give the police authority to search legally parked vehicles.
The Facts Leading To The Illegal Search Of The Vehicle
In this case, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for the suspect’s arrest for domestic violence. The Mansfield police department searched the area where the suspect lived and found a legally parked car matching the description of the suspect’s vehicle. The suspect was ordered out of the car, arrested and placed into the back of the police car. The driver of the vehicle was still in the vehicle. Although the driver had a clean driving record, the driver was ordered out of the vehicle. The officer called for a tow truck and conducted an inventory search of the vehicle which revealed a firearm. The suspect then admitted that he owned the firearm.
Ohio Supreme Court Declared Warrant Required To Search Legally Parked Cars
The Ohio Supreme Court held that this was an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article One of the Ohio Constitution. The Court said that the search incident to arrest exception did not apply, as it applies when an occupant of a vehicle is arrested, is not secured by the police, and can reach the vehicle. Here, the suspect was secured by the police in the police car. The Court also rejected the notion that the police reasonably believed that the vehicle contained evidence of the crime. Here, the arresting officer did not know the facts of the domestic violence allegations, and, therefore, had no reason to believe the car was involved in the domestic violence charge. Finally, the Ohio Supreme Court examined whether the police could tow the car and conduct an inventory under the community caretaking doctrine. The community caretaking doctrine justifies police impounding of vehicles in a number of situations, such as vehicles involved in accidents, illegally parked vehicles, stolen or abandoned vehicles, or if the vehicle cannot be driven lawfully. In these situations, an inventory search is conducted to protect the property while the vehicle is in impound, to protect the police from lost or stolen property claims, and to protect the police against danger from any items in the vehicle. Because the search was unjustified, the search was suppressed and any evidence of the firearm was excluded from evidence.
Justice Can Be Tough
This suspect had a long hard road for this victory. In this matter, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. The court of appeals agreed with the trial court. It was not until he reached the Ohio Supreme Court that he achieved this result. Meanwhile, he served out a term of probation during this time, having to comply with a number of requirements and intrusions.
Criminal Law Articles
Click on any of the following links to read more about Ohio criminal law: What do you do when pulled over by the police; When is consent to search valid; Good faith exception; When the police are in hot pursuit.
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