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Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Traffic Stop Based on Passerby’s Warning

Posted On: August 30th, 2021   |   Posted by: Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP
Police car with lights on pulled over a white car

Police officers need probable cause to pull you over for a traffic stop. If police stopped you without probable cause, an experienced attorney could seek dismissal for charges based on illegally obtained evidence.

However, a recent ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court might change this process. The state’s highest court recently upheld a case in which a state trooper stopped a driver after a passerby warned them that they were drunk. This ruling dramatically impacts how the public can notify police about alleged criminal activity that triggers a search and seizure.

State Police Stop Driver on Tip From Passerby

While investigating a car accident, an Ohio State Trooper heard a gas station customer yell, “Hey, stop that vehicle – that lady is drunk.”

Upon hearing this from the customer, the trooper went over to the suspected drunk driver to investigate. The driver was performing suspicious activity and wouldn’t stop moving their vehicle out of the gas station until the trooper stood in front of the car.

The driver rolled down their window, and the trooper immediately recognized the stench of alcohol along with the driver’s slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. After conducting field sobriety tests, the alleged drunk driver’s blood alcohol levels were more than two and a half times the legal limit of 0.08%.

The Validity of Search and Seizures Based on Anonymous Tips

Initially, the state appeals court ruled in favor of the alleged drunk driver. A customer shouting to the state trooper that the driver was drunk does not give credible reason to believe that the allegation is true. Since there were no other indications that the driver was drunk, the trooper did not have probable cause to pull her over.

Supreme Court Ruling

However, the Supreme Court overturned this ruling. The court’s ruling stated, “It was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances for the trooper to approach the vehicle in this public area and briefly detain its driver to make a most basic inquiry as to whether an immediate danger to public safety existed.”

Dangerous Precedent for Search and Seizure

Many defense attorneys and legal advocates fear that the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling erodes Constitutional protections. The Fourth Amendment protects people from illegal search and seizure.

The disagreement between two appeals courts and the Ohio Supreme Court means continued discussion about probable cause, suspected crimes, and search and seizures.

What to Do if Police Stop You Without Probable Cause

If the police have stopped you and you suspect a lack of probable cause, that does not mean you should be combative. It would be best if you remained polite and respectful. Attempting to disagree or argue with the police will not help your case.

If police request you submit to a field sobriety test or breathalyzer, give your consent. Your attorney can help you work out your defense at a later time.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

You do not have to answer any questions police may ask you or permit them to search you or your vehicle. If they decide to arrest you, the best thing you can do is cooperate. Then get your aggressive defense counsel to handle their misconduct in court.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Columbus

It isn’t uncommon for people to face criminal charges after an illegal search. Contact an experienced Columbus criminal defense lawyer at Luftman, Heck & Associates for help clearing your name. Call us at 614-500-3836 for a free consultation. Or fill out our quick contact form, and we’ll call you to discuss your case.

I can FINALLY breathe easy now. I want to thank Mr. Bowen and all the attorneys that helped me with this case.

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