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Outstanding, unrelated arrest warrant did not justify search of suspect

In one recent Ohio Supreme Court case, the question arose as to how constitutional protections are applied to an individual who is the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant.
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    January 29, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Outstanding, unrelated arrest warrant did not justify search of suspect

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The United States Constitution forbids searches and seizures without warrants, except in a few narrow circumstances, and those protections extend to everyone.

However, in one recent Ohio Supreme Court case, State v. Gardner, the question arose as to how those protections are applied to an individual who is the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant. Does such an individual have no privacy interests and thus no standing to challenge a search by the police?

A search in a parking lot

In this case, a Dayton police officer was patrolling a "high crime area," when he observed a pick-up truck bearing license plates that indicated the vehicle was from outside Montgomery County. He followed the truck because he believed that people from outside Montgomery County came to Dayton to buy illegal drugs. When the parties entered a home and did not exit, the officer left the area.

When he returned three hours later, another car was in the driveway, and checking the registration of the car, he learned that it belonged to a man with an outstanding arrest warrant. When that man left in his car with two other young men, the officer followed. When the man pulled into a gas station and parked the car, the officer arrested him.

At the same time, the officer noticed that one of the other young men inside the car rose from his seat and reached into the back of his shorts. After ordering the young man from the car, the officer handcuffed him.

The officer then patted down the young man; although he did not discover weapons, he did detect something he suspected to be crack cocaine in his buttocks. The officer placed the young man under arrest. After other officers arrived on the scene, the young man was taken into custody. Police then determined that he was the subject of an arrest warrant for a traffic violation.

The young man was indicted on one count of possession of crack cocaine, and he unsuccessfully argued that the trial court should suppress the cocaine found in his possession because of the circumstances surrounding the search. The young man appealed.

An improper arrest

In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court of Ohio noted that a person subject to an arrest warrant does not enjoy the full panoply of privacy rights that other individuals enjoy. For example, an arrest warrant authorizes the police to enter into an individual's home to seize that person. However, that example presupposes that the police know that there was a warrant for the individual's arrest when entering the home to make an arrest.

Here, the court held that the unlawfulness of an improper arrest or seizure is not purged and made right by the fortuitous subsequent discovery of an arrest warrant, even where the young man was the subject of an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation and had possession of drugs.

There was no evidence showing when and how the officers discovered the young man's name or that there was an outstanding arrest warrant or whether the pat-down was justified, and thus the case was remanded back to the trial court.

Protecting your rights

If you are accused of an alleged drug offense, you could face a substantial prison sentence, excessive fines and post-conviction challenges. Seek an experienced criminal defense attorney who is prepared to provide you with the thorough and aggressive legal representation you need to protect your constitutional rights.

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