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Ohio Court Rejects Police Searching Wallet Of Driver With Cracked Windshield
Court of Appeals in Ohio rejects search of an automobile passenger wallet during a traffic stop.

Judge Gene Donofrio
An automobile passenger should not have his wallet searched by a police officer simply because he is in a car with a cracked windshield, the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled last month. On January 12, 2008, St. Clair Police Officer Jayson Jackson noticed a four-door Plymouth with a cracked windshield driving past Walmart at 2:30am. Hashim Dunlap was sitting in the backseat of the vehicle that was carrying wooden table legs that made him uncomfortable.

As Officer Jackson approached, he noticed Dunlap was "fidgeting." Dunlap did not have identification on him, but he provided his name and other identifying information to Officer Jackson who insisted he step out of the car for a pat down that uncovered keys and miscellaneous objects. There was nothing in the backseat of the car other than the table legs. Officer Jackson turned his attention back to the driver, who he learned had a suspended license. As he was writing a ticket for this, Officer Jackson saw more fidgeting so he frisked Dunlap once more.

Officer Jackson grabbed Dunlap's wallet out of a jacket pocket, opened it, and his eyes widened at finding $1425 in cash. Another pocket contained a small digital scale. Prosecutors filed to seize the cash, a move upheld by a judge. Dunlap appealed this decision on the grounds that the second pat down because Officer Jackson could not have thought anything he felt was threatening.

The three-judge appellate panel found the first frisk was reasonable, and it grudgingly agreed the second was also valid. The court noted that a pat down search is only valid when looking for weapons, but Officer Jackson testified that he performed the search because he knew Dunlap was lying and he had to be hiding something.

"When Officer Jackson felt the first lump in appellant's pocket, he could tell that it was not a weapon," Judge Gene Donofrio wrote for the court. "Officer Jackson stated at least five times that the wallet did not feel like a weapon. And while Officer Jackson was concerned that appellant may have lied about not having any identification with him, he at no time suspected that the lump that was appellant's wallet could be a weapon."

The same was true of the scale, which the officer admitted did not feel like a weapon. Because the court found the wallet and scale searches were illegal, all the subsequent incriminating evidence was suppressed.

In 2009, Officer Jackson was suspended after being accused of bringing marijuana into the county jail. He was later acquitted. In January, he became the Liverpool Township police chief. A copy of the decision is available at the source link below in a 600k PDF file.

Source: PDF File Ohio v. Dunlap (Court of Appeals, State of Ohio, 12/17/2013)

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