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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Warrantless Arrest Did Not Violate Rights

A police officer is not required under the U.S. or Ohio constitutions to secure an arrest warrant every time circumstances demonstrate that it is practicable to obtain a warrant, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The Supreme Court rejected the claim by LeAndre Jordan that his arrest as he left a Cincinnati cellphone store was unconstitutional because the police did not have an arrest warrant. Police had suspected Jordan was involved in a burglary eight days earlier.

Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor stated that under R.C. 2935.04, once an officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect committed a felony, a warrantless arrest in public is constitutional even if there was sufficient time for an officer to obtain an arrest warrant.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine joined Chief Justice O’Connor’s opinion. Justice Michael P. Donnelly concurred in judgment only.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Melody J. Stewart maintained that R.C. 2935.04 is Ohio’s “citizen’s-arrest” law and it does not apply to the power police officers have to make warrantless arrests. However, under both the citizen’s arrest law and R.C. 2935.03 — which pertains solely to law enforcement arrest powers — an arrest warrant is required unless it is impracticable to obtain, she concluded.

Justice Jennifer Brunner joined Justice Stewart’s dissent.

Barber Suspected in Safe Heist
In December 2016, James and Emiko Locke reported that someone had broken into their Cincinnati home through a bedroom window and stolen a safe holding $40,000 in cash.

Only the safe was missing, and a limited number of people knew the safe’s location, including the Lockes’ son, Michael. Cincinnati Police Detective Mark Longworth soon learned from a neighbor that a cream-colored Chrysler 300 was parked near the home at the time of Jordan’s arrest. He discovered the car was regularly driven by Michael’s friend known as “Dre,” a barber. Longworth determined Dre was LeAndre Jordan.

Longworth located the car in a grocery store parking lot near Jordan’s workplace and learned that the car was registered to Jordan’s mother. For several days, he observed Jordan coming and going from the car in the store parking lot to the barbershop. He also discovered from Michael’s cellphone several calls between Jordan and Michael that had been made around the time of the safe burglary.

Search Leads to Drugs, Cash, Gun
Eight days after the burglary, Longworth and another officer arrested Jordan as he left a cellphone store. At the time of his arrest, Jordan was carrying his girlfriend’s apartment keys, and officers determined he lived at the apartment. Suspecting evidence from the safe crime could be found at the apartment, Longworth obtained a search warrant.

While the search did not uncover evidence that was conclusively linked to the safe burglary, officers did seize heroin, cocaine, an electronic scale, a handgun, and $2,100 in cash. Jordan was charged with various drug crimes, but none related to the safe burglary.

In Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Jordan sought to suppress the evidence, arguing his arrest was unconstitutional. He maintained the evidence against him was the result of an unlawful arrest and could not be admitted in court.

Jordan conceded the police had probable cause to suspect him of the safe burglary, but he argued it was a violation of the federal and state constitutions to arrest him without a warrant when officers had time to obtain one and when there were no exigent circumstances, such as a suspicion that he was going to flee the state or destroy evidence.

The trial court denied his request, and he was convicted of several offenses, which led to an 11-year prison sentence. Jordan appealed to the First District Court of Appeals, arguing his warrantless arrest was invalid. The First District affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and Jordan appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case.

Supreme Court Analyzed Felony Arrest Law
Chief Justice O’Connor explained that Jordan cites his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution. The opinion noted the language of the two provisions are similar. Although the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the Ohio Constitution grants greater protections than the Fourth Amendment in cases regarding misdemeanor arrests, the state and federal constitutions provide identical protections with respect to felony arrests, the Court stated.

Under the Fourth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that officers do not have to demonstrate that exigent circumstances exist or that it is impracticable to obtain a warrant before police officers can conduct a warrantless public arrest based on probable case, the opinion stated. The Court noted that Jordan conceded the police had probable cause. Because the arrest was made in public, the majority found the arrest did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Jordan argued that under Ohio law, even a warrantless public arrest requires a warrant if it is practicable to obtain one. The state argued that, under R.C. 2935.04, the officers had the authority to arrest Jordan without a warrant. The law states that when a felony is committed, “any person without a warrant may arrest another whom he has reasonable cause to believe is guilty of the offense, and detain him until a warrant can be obtained.”

Citing the Ohio Supreme Court’s 1972 State v. Heston decision, Jordan maintained that an arresting officer must have both probable cause to believe a felony was committed “and the circumstance must be such as to make it impracticable to secure a warrant.” The Court noted that the circumstances of Jordan’s case are not the same as those in Heston, where police attempted to make an arrest on private property rather than in public.

The opinion explained there is an “innate difference” between warrantless arrests occurring in public and those occurring on private property, and the Fourth Amendment grants “law-enforcement greater latitude when they exercise their duties in public places.” The Court majority concluded neither the state law nor the constitutions require an arrest warrant to be obtained, even if it is possible to do so, to make a felony arrest in public based on probable cause.

Law Limits Rights to Arrests Without Warrant, Dissent Stated
Justice Stewart wrote that whether R.C. 2935.04 applies to police officers is “unclear from the language” of the law, but when read in context with the other provisions of R.C. Chapter 2935, it is clear that R.C. 2935.04 does not apply to law enforcement officers acting in their official capacity. R.C. 2935.03 specifically authorizes law enforcement officers to make warrantless arrests, but the law applies to only certain types of crimes and situations, the dissent stated.

The dissent stated R.C. 2935.04 is a citizen’s arrest law that allows ordinary people to detain someone whom they saw commit, or had reasonable cause to believe committed, a felony. Applying the provision to police would render the limitations of R.C. 2935.03 “largely ineffective,” the dissent maintained.

However, both R.C. 2935.03 and R.C. 2935.04 specify the person can be held only “until a warrant can be obtained.” The term “until a warrant can be obtained” makes it clear that warrantless arrests can be made only when its impracticable to obtain a warrant, and in Jordan’s case, the police had ample time to do so, the dissent asserted.

The majority noted that Jordan did not argue that R.C. 2935.04 did not apply to police officers and the Court has never ruled against applying the law to arrests by police. Justice Stewart countered that the Ohio Supreme Court has “never addressed, let alone reconciled” the provisions of R.C. 2935.03 and R.C. 2935.04 together. The dissent stated that because the Court previously has “taken it for granted” the law applies to police “does not absolve us of our obligation to correct that mistake now that the issue has been brought to our attention.”

2020-0495. State v. Jordan, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-3922.

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