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Items from Trash Pull Along with Other Evidence Showed Probable Cause

Image of a green plastic garbage bin (wasan gredpree/Thinkstock)

Police had probable cause to search a Cleveland residence because evidence found earlier in the trash supported prior tips about suspected drug activity at the house.

Image of a green plastic garbage bin (wasan gredpree/Thinkstock)

Police had probable cause to search a Cleveland residence because evidence found earlier in the trash supported prior tips about suspected drug activity at the house.

Evidence seized from a single trash pull that corroborates tips and background information involving drug activity is sufficient to establish probable cause for a search warrant, the Ohio Supreme Court held today.

The unanimous court ruled that the proper standard for courts reviewing whether probable cause was established is to examine the “totality of the circumstances.” Because the trash pull supported earlier information related to likely drug activity at the house, probable cause for a warrant to search the residence existed, and the motion to suppress evidence of the search should not have been granted, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote for the court.

The decision, which reverses the judgment of the Eighth District Court of Appeals, now returns the case to the trial court for additional proceedings.

Background
In October 2011, police arrested a man at 1116 Rowley Avenue in Cleveland for manufacturing methamphetamine. In December, Lauren Jones, who lived at the residence, reported a burglary and said a man was refusing to leave the premises. The man, who was arrested, was known by police to be involved in meth production.

A confidential informant also told a police detective that a woman named Lauren, who matched the description of Lauren Jones, made and sold meth in the Cleveland area. Six people arrested for manufacturing the drug connected another woman to meth production, and two of them stated that her operation was located on Rowley Avenue.

After piecing together this and other information, detectives took the trash bin from the curb at 1116 Rowley Avenue. They found mail addressed to Jones at that address, empty containers of chemicals used in producing meth, materials to process the chemicals, and meth residue on plastic tubing.

Within a day, officers used evidence from the trash pull to obtain a warrant to search the Rowley Avenue home. Based on evidence found in the search, Jones was indicted on charges for manufacturing, possessing, and trafficking drugs.

Before trial, Jones asked the court to suppress the evidence gathered because, she contended, no probable cause had been established for the warrant. The trial court granted her request, and the Eighth District affirmed the decision. The state appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Court’s Analysis
In Illinois v. Gates (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court stated that reviewing courts must examine the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether a search warrant was issued with probable cause, as required by the federal constitution. (Ohio provides similar Fourth Amendment protection in Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution.)

Justice Lanzinger noted that the appeals court in this case incorrectly concluded that evidence from a single trash pull had to be looked at in isolation when determining whether probable cause had been shown.

“Instead, the trash pull in this case should have been considered as a part of the totality of the circumstances, along with all of the other information presented in the affidavit [from the detective] accompanying the request for the search warrant,” she explained.

“When the facts set forth in the affidavit are considered as a whole, there was a fair probability that contraband or evidence of methamphetamine production would be found at 1116 Rowley Avenue,” she added. “Cleveland police received information linking the address to methamphetamine production and distribution from multiple sources, and that information was corroborated by the trash pull.”

“‘Totality of the circumstances’ is the proper standard of review to determine whether probable cause exists to issue a search warrant if the supporting affidavit relies in part on evidence seized from a ‘trash pull,’” she wrote.

2013-2023. State v. Jones, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-483.

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