Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

California Woman Caught with Marijuana in RV Denied Appeal

A California woman found transporting 19 boxes of marijuana in a motorhome on a highway in Ohio has been denied an appeal.

A Twelfth District Court of Appeals panel has affirmed the decision of the trial court in finding Araceli Cruz guilty of possessing marijuana and criminal tools.

In her appeal, Cruz contended the Preble County Court of Common Pleas erred by overruling her motion to suppress evidence obtained by the Ohio Highway Patrol during a traffic stop on I-70 on August 7, 2012. Troopers stopped the rented RV Cruz was driving because it was following a semi-truck too close. After observing that both Cruz and her passenger appeared to be nervous, the trooper called for a canine unit. The dog sniffed the outside of the motorhome and indicated the odor of narcotics. While the exterior search didn’t turn up any illegal substances, a search inside the vehicle yielded 195 pounds of marijuana that the state patrol estimated to be worth $1.2 million.

Cruz made several arguments in her appeal, including that there was no probable cause to search the entire motorhome and that Marco, the drug-sniffing dog, was not reliable.

Twelfth District Judge Michael E. Powell cited in the opinion the U.S. Supreme Court case Florida v. Harris that evidence of a dog’s performance in a certification or training program can provide sufficient reason to trust its alert to the odor of drugs.

“Based on our review of the record, we find the trial court did not err in concluding that Marco was reliable and supplied the officers with probable cause to search the motorhome. Marco's alert, when considered in the totality of the circumstances, would cause a reasonably prudent person to believe that a search of the vehicle would reveal illegal narcotics,” Judge Powell wrote.

Judge Powell went on to note that despite an attempt by the defense to present expert testimony to the contrary, there was “undisputed evidence” that Marco and his handler were certified with an accuracy rate above Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy requirements, and that they had “extensive training.”

Cruz was sentenced to eight years in prison for the drug possession conviction and a concurrent sentence of 12 months for possessing criminal tools.

Judges Robert A. Hendrickson and Stephen W. Powell concurred in the decision.

State v. Cruz, 2014-Ohio-4280
Criminal Appeal From: Preble County Court of Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: September 29, 2014

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