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Court News Ohio

Legality of Police Searches at Issue in Cases Before Supreme Court

Image of a close-up of the Front Street side of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center

Two cases involving disputed police searches cases are among the case the Court will hear during upcoming oral arguments.

Image of a close-up of the Front Street side of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center

Two cases involving disputed police searches cases are among the case the Court will hear during upcoming oral arguments.

In two separate cases, the Franklin County prosecuting attorney is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn lower court decisions invalidating searches of suspects by the Columbus police.

Search Leads to Drugs
In 2014, two Columbus police officers were checking on a vacant house. The officer stationed in the back of the house saw two men walking in the alley behind the backyard. One of the men, Justin Wintermeyer, went inside a house across the alley from where the officer was standing. Wintermeyer returned to the alley about two minutes later and handed an object to his companion.

Suspecting he had just witnessed a narcotics exchange, the officer walked toward the men and shined a flashlight on them. The officer saw an object in a cellophane baggie in the companion’s hand, and he grabbed it. The officer detained the two men while another officer tested the substance in the baggie and determined it was heroin.

Suspect Seeks to Suppress Evidence
Wintermeyer was indicted for possession of heroin. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence, alleging the police search was a violation of his rights against unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. In response, the Franklin County prosecutor responded with several reasons why the search was valid and argued that the exclusionary rule doesn’t apply in Wintermeyer’s case. The prosecutor cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 Rakas v. Illinois decision in which the high court clarified when a defendant has “standing” to file a motion to suppress evidence.

The trial court granted Wintermeyer’s motion to suppress the baggie and the drugs in it. In seeking to reverse the ruling, the prosecutor argues that Wintermeyer doesn’t have standing to raise the Fourth Amendment protection because he wasn’t searched and the drugs weren’t seized from him.

Wintermeyer contends he and his companion were illegally detained and he had a reasonable expectation in the privacy of the plastic bag. Because he was detained and had an expectation of privacy in the item searched, he had standing to raise a Fourth Amendment argument, he argues.

Gunfire Prompts Suspect Search
In a second case, the prosecutor has challenged the Tenth District’s ruling that Columbus police didn’t have a valid reason to search a man walking across the street after the police heard gunshots in the area.

In March 2015, officers responded to a call about a domestic dispute. When the officers arrived, they heard gunshots they thought came from the west. They returned to their cruiser and drove a short distance in the direction of the sound. The officers traveled along a few residential streets for no more than a minute when they saw Jaonte Hairston. He was walking across a street talking on his cell phone.

Because Hairston was the only person they saw in the area, the officers exited their vehicle with their guns drawn and approached him. They asked Hairston if he heard the shots, and he replied that he had. Hairston was told to place his hands behind his back and was asked whether he had any weapons. He said he did, in his jacket pocket. Police retrieved a pistol and arrested Hairston for carrying a concealed weapon.

Defendant Argues Search Was Unreasonable
In court, Hairston asked to suppress his statements and the evidence. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Hairston. In March 2016, Hairston pled no contest to carrying a concealed weapon. The court sentenced him to one year of community control.

An appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision to suppress the evidence. The prosecutor maintains that courts must look at the totality of the circumstances when reviewing whether stopping and searching an individual was legal. While individual factors may be innocent behavior, taken together they can amount to reasonable suspicion, as in this case, the prosecutor concludes.

Hairston counters that the police cannot detain a person at gunpoint to investigate gunshots when they have no description of a suspect, don’t know the direction a suspect was heading, and have no other "particularized" information connecting the person to an offense of discharging a firearm.

Oral Argument Details
The two search cases are among the eight cases the Supreme Court will consider during two days of oral arguments on Jan. 29 and30. Arguments in four cases, including State v. Hairston, begin at 9 a.m., Jan. 29, at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. State v. Wintermeyer and three other appeals will be heard beginning at 9 a.m. on Jan. 30. All arguments are streamed live online at and broadcast live and archived on The Ohio Channel.

Case Previews Published 
Along with the information provided in this article, the Supreme Court’s Office of Public Information today released in-depth previews of the cases.

Tuesday, Jan. 29
In State v. Romero, a Honduran immigrant with legal permanent resident status pled guilty in a Stark County court to drug trafficking and possession. After he was sentenced to community control, community service, and a license suspension, federal immigration officials took him into custody for deportation based on his trafficking conviction. The man alleges that his attorney in state court didn’t inform him that his guilty pleas would lead to mandatory deportation. The prosecutor argues that the man didn’t provide enough evidence to show that his attorney gave ineffective representation that resulted in a manifest injustice.

A woman was arrested in Trumbull County for several driving violations in November 2015, and her trial date was moved several times. In June 2016, she asked the court to dismiss the case asserting that her right to a speedy trial had been violated. The prosecutor in State v. Martin maintains that the defendant requested the questioned continuances on the record, so those delays don’t count toward speedy-trial time regardless of whether the court’s entries noted who requested and the reasons for the delays. She counters that if a court doesn’t document in its journals the reason for a continuance, the delay counts against the state.

The Board of Professional Conduct is recommending that the Supreme Court suspend a Cuyahoga County attorney for allegedly attempting to extort an attorney fee from his client that was $2,000 more than estimated. The attorney in Disciplinary Counsel v. Shimko objects to a proposed two-year suspension, with one-year stayed. He argues the board disregarded Ohio Supreme Court precedent  when it found that he violated the attorney conduct rules while attempting to resolve a fee dispute. He claims his actions were permissible and that he shouldn’t be suspended.

Wednesday, Jan. 30
A couple defaulted on their loans on their Bradford home, and the bank began foreclosure proceedings. A Darke County court issued a foreclosure judgment in January 2016, but an appeals court agreed to stay the foreclosure if the couple posted a bond. When the couple didn’t post the bond, the property was sold, and the bank bought it. A few months later, the trial court confirmed the sale. Farmers State Bank v. Sponaugle centers on whether the trial court was authorized to confirm the sale when the appeals court had determined the foreclosure judgment wasn’t a final order. The bank asserts that the judgment was final because all claims were resolved, while the couple insists that it wasn’t final because it didn’t specify the amounts due to each lender.

A dispute regarding the payment of workers’ compensation payments for workers who lost limbs, organs, or other bodily systems has raised the issue of how to apply the “law of the case doctrine.” The doctrine states that legal questions resolved by a reviewing court remain as the law of the case for subsequent proceedings at the trial- and appellate-court levels. In Kljun v. Administrator, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, a Cuyahoga County trial court declared a statute requiring “loss-of-use” compensation to be paid in weekly installments unconstitutional. The bureau argues that the ruling means the older version of the law is in effect, which gives the bureau the option of paying weekly installments or lump sums. The workers contend the bureau must follow the trial court’s ruling requiring lump-sum payments.

Two parents separated before the birth of their child, but agreed to cooperate in raising the child. The parents, however, dispute the amount of child support owed by the father. When presenting their incomes to a magistrate, the father stated the bulk of his income was paid in commissions and that in 2016, he had an unusually high commission. Relying on state law, he argued that amount should be excluded from the child support calculation. The magistrate included the 2016 commission. In A.S. v. J.W., the Court will consider whether the statute applies to commissions or if state lawmakers mistakenly included commissions in that section of the law.