Login | July 19, 2019

Court reverses trial court ruling upholds offender's Fourth Amendment challenge

Special to the Legal News

Published: May 15, 2019

The Supreme Court of Ohio recently reversed a Franklin County appeals court ruling that upheld an individual's assertion that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated during a stop and subsequent pat-down by a pair of Columbus Police officers.

Justice Patrick DeWine reasoned the police officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Jaonte Hairston as they rushed to the vicinity from where they believed gunshots had been fired 30 to 60 seconds previously.

"As they approached the intersection, they spotted an individual whom they later identified as Hairston, walking away from the school into a crosswalk while talking on a cell phone," DeWine wrote for the majority. "There was no one else around."

Officers, with weapons drawn, ordered Hairston to stop and asked him if he had heard the gunshots. He told them he had, case summary provided.

The man admitted he had a gun in his jacket pocket, when officers asked if he was armed.

One of the officers noted Hairston spoke calmly during the stop, but acted in a somewhat nervous fashion.

Hairston subsequently was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

The trial court denied Hairston's motion to suppress the evidence that he was carrying a concealed firearm, and he was convicted on the charge.

A 10th District Court of Appeals panel reversed the trial court's ruling on the basis that his arrest was unconstitutional, that there was no reasonable suspicion associated with Hairston's presence in the immediate area.

"The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures," DeWine wrote. "Its protections extend to brief investigative stops that fall short of traditional arrests.

"An officer may perform such a stop when the officer has a reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts that criminal behavior has occurred or is imminent.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), when an officer is justified in believing that an individual may be armed and presently dangerous, the officer may conduct a limited protective search of the individual for concealed weapons, the justice continued.

The majority holding that the officers did not violate the man's rights was based on three elements: The officer, who served as a witness in the trial court heard the "close-by" gunshots; the same officer knew from personal experience that crime in the immediate area where Hairston was found often took place during the same time of day; and the stop occurred very close in time to the gunshots and Hairston was the only person in the area.

"(The officer) testified that upon hearing the shots, the officers immediately jumped in the cruiser and that it took them only 30 to 60 seconds to get to the intersection outside the school," DeWine wrote. "When they arrived, Hairston - and no one else - was there."

He reasoned the appellate court went astray by focusing on individual factors in isolation rather than on the totality of the circumstances.

"While the court of appeals may have been correct in concluding that none of the individual factors that the state relied on was sufficient in itself to create a reasonable suspicion, we conclude that taken together - considering the totality of the circumstances through the eyes of a reasonable police officer - the cumulative facts did rise to the level of reasonable suspicion," DeWine continued.

He added that part of police work is investigating criminal activity that officers detect while out on patrol. In this instance, officers did exactly what one would expect reasonable and prudent police officers to do in their situation.

Justices Sharon Kennedy, Judith French and Patrick Fischer joined DeWine's opinion, while Justice Michael Donnelly concurred in judgment only and Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justice Melody Stewart dissented.

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