8/29/2014Ohio: Reaching Into Glovebox During A Traffic Stop Is Not Suspicious
Ohio Appeals Court rules party girls reaching for the glovebox during a traffic stop is not a threatening move.
When drivers are pulled over and expect a speeding ticket they sometimes reach instinctively for the glovebox so they will have their registration ready when the officer arrives at the window. This can provoke a violent response, as Sherrie A. Powell found out as she was hauled out of her car by four masked detectives in an unmarked car after she reached for her glovebox while stopped on Central Avenue in downtown Toledo, Ohio on March 25, 2012.
The detectives were furious after Powell's SUV cut them off. She pulled abruptly into the left lane to make a turn while on her way home with friends from a party at a club. The detectives were on their way back from Big Shots Bar where they donned riot gear to serve a search warrant.
A Toledo police sergeant in a squad car initiated the stop. He noted that Powell appeared a bit tipsy while the detectives searched the SUV. They found a gun in the glovebox, which was legally carried because Powell had a valid concealed weapons permit. A passenger told the officer that Powell had the permit as the gun was discovered, only minutes after the stop was initiated. The officers decided to charge Powell with "failure to inform" about the gun and using a weapon while intoxicated.
A jury trial found Powell not guilty on the intoxication count, but after asking the trial judge for guidance on what a "reasonable time" would be to inform the officer about the concealed gun, the judge said that was for the jury to decide. It returned a guilty verdict on failure to inform.
Powell appealed, arguing the search of her vehicle was illegal. Prosecutors insisted that police have the right to search any vehicle for weapons at any time. A three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals said that interpretation goes too far.
"A protective search is permitted so that police may discover weapons on or near a suspect which might pose a threat to the officer's safety," Judge Stephen A. Yarbrough wrote for the court. "There was no testimony at trial that the officers feared for their safety at the time of the search. Indeed, the only articulable reason for the search was appellant's movement around the glove compartment during the stop. Such movement, standing alone, does not give rise to a reasonable belief that appellant was armed and dangerous."
The court rejected the claim of prosecutors that they would have inevitably searched the vehicle once she admitted carrying a concealed weapon. Not so, the court surmised, since she could have lied.
"Had she indicated to the officers that she was not carrying a concealed weapon, they would have had no constitutionally valid reason to search the vehicle to discover the firearm," Judge Yarbrough explained.
The court vacated Powell's conviction. A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.