2/19/2013Ohio Court Upholds Police Entry Into Home Over Failure To Signal Turn
Ohio Court of Appeals rules police can enter home over turn signal, but urge Supreme Court to overturn the precedent.
The Ohio Court of Appeals on Friday upheld the police use of a battering ram on the home of a suspect who failed to properly signal a turn. The court majority also took the unusual step of noting that they disagreed with their own decision and called on the state Supreme Court to overturn the precedent.
On December 12, 2011, Dayton Police Officers Michael Saylors and Randy Beane saw the gold Oldsmobile Intrigue belonging to Jeffrey Lam near the intersection of Hodapp and Lorain Avenues. While the officers were following Lam to his home at 645 Creighton Avenue, they noted he allegedly failed to use his turn signal. Lam had a history of running from police, so the officers waited until he came to a stop before turning on their emergency lights. Lam ran out of his car into his home and locked the door. After failing to kick in the door, the officers used a battering ram and knocked it down. In the course of a search of the house for "officer safety," drugs were found.
At trial, Lam argued the officers could not enter his home without a warrant for a minor misdemeanor. The Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas judge disagreed, ruling that failure to open the door for the officers constituted a separate offense on its own justifying the entry.
Under US Supreme Court precedents, officers must apply for a warrant before entering a home unless there are exigent circumstances such as a life-threatening situation or a hot pursuit for a felony. The Ohio Supreme Court in a 2002 decision, Middletown v. Flinchum, extended the hot pursuit doctrine to misdemeanors. In that case, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer filed a fiery dissent saying a constitutional right should not be chipped away to arrest "a mere tire spinner."
"We share the concerns expressed in the Flinchum dissent," Judge Jeffrey E. Froelich wrote for the three-judge appeals court majority. "Although we are bound by supreme court precedent, we have reservations about permitting police officers to chase a suspect who is known to have committed only a minor traffic violation and to forcibly enter into his house, in the absence of exigent circumstances. This may be the unusual situation where legal reasoning has plunged off the slippery slope or where the exceptions have swallowed the rule."
The judges saw no reason why the police could not have waited outside the home for a search warrant since no exigent circumstances existed. As the highest court had already decided a nearly identical case, Lam's conviction was upheld. The judges emphasized the importance of overturning this precedent by appealing to the original intent of the founding fathers.
"President John Adams traced the origins of our independence from England to James Otis's 1791 argument against British writs of assistance, where he declared that a 'man's house is his castle,'" Judge Froelich wrote. "It may be that Jeffrey would have temporarily 'defeated' his citation for the traffic offense by 'escaping to a private place,' but weighing the immediate serving of a citation for a non-jailable minor misdemeanor against the Fourth Amendment's protection of the home, we would make what should be the obvious choice... We hope that the Ohio Supreme Court will reconsider or clarify its position."
A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.