1/29/2015Ohio: Cops Need A Reason To Interrogate Parked Motorists
Ohio Court of Appeals rejects the idea that police can interrogate anyone stopped in a driveway.
Police officers may not approach and question motorists parked in a driveway unless there is a legitimate reason to suspect criminal activity. That was the decision of a divided Ohio Court of Appeals panel on Monday that overturned the conviction of Jamey D. Dixon after she was arrested while minding her own business in a residential driveway in Kirtland Hills on March 29, 2013.
At around 2am, Officer Nate Reed saw the Dixon's car parked on Kingwood Drive. The vehicle's lights were off, but Officer Reed said he did not know that someone was inside. He considered the car suspicious and decided to investigate. He later told the court that he did so under his "community caretaker function."
Dixon was intoxicated. Although she had pulled over to sober up, she was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and sentenced to 15 days in jail, a one-year license suspension and a year of probation. She appealed on the grounds that Officer Dixon had no right to question her under the Fourth Amendment. The appellate court agreed.
"The facts did not justify him in approaching and questioning appellant, simply because she was stopped on a private driveway at night," Judge Colleen Mary O'Toole wrote for the majority. "In this case, Officer Reed based his decision to make a stop solely on the facts that some crimes had occurred in the area; that he had not seen a car parked in the driveway of the house earlier, that he had not seen a car parked at that particular point in the driveway before; and, that its lights were off. The area was not a high crime area; the officer was not responding to a call; he had no suspicion of any traffic infraction or any other criminal activity."
The court found that the community caretaker function applies when an officer renders aid to a motorist in distress, as happens when he arrives on the scene of an accident. This exception could not apply in the present case since Officer Reed had no idea that the "suspicious" car was occupied. A car in a driveway is not even all that suspicious.
"These facts are consistent with many perfectly legal reasons why anyone may have pulled into the driveway -- e.g., place a phone call, check directions on a GPS, or send a text message -- activities that are safer to perform when not driving," Judge Timothy P. Cannon observed.
Since neither an investigative nor caretaking stop was justified, the majority reversed the lower court's decision.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 70k PDF file at the source link below.