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Evidence Obtained Through Un-Mirandized Statement In Police Custody Held Inadmissible

2004-0604. State v. Farris, 2006-Ohio-3255.
Wayne App. No. 03CA0022, 2004-Ohio-826. Judgment reversed.
Moyer, C.J., Pfeifer, O'Connor and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
Resnick, Lundberg Stratton and O'Donnell, JJ., concur in part and dissent in part.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-3255.pdf

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(July 12, 2006) In a decision holding that the Ohio Constitution provides greater protection against self-incrimination than the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that:

The 4-3 decision, authored by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, involved a December 2002 traffic stop near Wooster in which a state trooper who pulled over 21-year-old Stephen Farris for speeding detected a “light odor” of burnt marijuana in the passenger compartment when he approached the vehicle. The trooper ordered Farris to get out of his car. The trooper found no drugs or drug-related items during a pat-down body search. The trooper took Farris' car keys and ordered him to get into the front seat of the patrol car. Without administering Miranda warnings, the officer then asked Farris why his car smelled like marijuana. Farris replied that his housemates had smoked marijuana earlier that day, but he had not used the drug.

The trooper then told Farris that he was going to search the trunk of his car, and asked if it contained any drugs or drug paraphernalia. Farris replied that there were no drugs, but there was a pipe and some cigarette papers in a bag inside a piece of luggage. The trooper immediately read Farris his Miranda rights, then repeated his earlier questions about the odor in the car and the contents of the trunk, to which Farris repeated his earlier answers. The trooper and a second officer called to the scene conducted a warrantless search of the inside of Farris' car and the trunk. In the trunk they found a closed, opaque paper bag inside a piece of luggage which they opened, disclosing a glass pipe and a packet of cigarette rolling papers. The trooper cited Farris for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Farris subsequently filed a motion in Wayne County Municipal Court to suppress (exclude from evidence as improperly obtained) both his pre and post-Miranda statements to the trooper and the evidence obtained through the search of his trunk. The trial judge ruled that Farris had been subjected to questioning while in the custody of the trooper before being given the required Miranda warnings, and ordered that his pre-warning statements be suppressed. The judge also held, however, that Farris' repetition of his statement admitting possession of drug paraphernalia after he had been read his rights was voluntary and admissible; and ruled that his post- Miranda statement gave police probable cause to conduct the search of his trunk that turned up the contraband materials. The trial court decision also stated that, even if Farris had made no statement when questioned, the trooper's detection of the odor of burnt marijuana in the passenger compartment constituted sufficient probable cause for a warrantless search of the entire car, including the trunk, that would inevitably have discovered the contraband. Following denial of his motions to suppress, Farris entered a no contest plea to possession of drug paraphernalia and was sentenced to a $150 fine and a 6-month driver license suspension.

On review, the 9th District Court of Appeals upheld Farris' conviction and sentence. The appellate opinion held that Farris “was never arrested” during the traffic stop, and therefore could not assert Miranda- based claims for suppression of statements he made to the trooper or of the vehicle search that was predicated on those statements. Farris sought Supreme Court review of the 9th District's decision.

Writing for the majority in today's decision, Justice Pfeifer noted that it was not necessary for Farris to be under arrest in order for him to be “in the custody” of the trooper for Miranda purposes when he was questioned. “Officer Menges patted down Farris, took his car keys, instructed him to enter the cruiser, and told Farris that he was going to search Farris's car because of the scent of marijuana,” wrote Justice Pfeifer. “Farris was not free to leave the scene – he had no car keys and reasonably believed that he would be detained at least as long as it would take for the officer the search his automobile. … We hold that a reasonable man in Farris's position would have understood himself to be in custody of a police officer as he sat in the cruiser.”

With regard to the trooper's delayed administration of Miranda warnings and repetition of his earlier unwarned questions after Farris had already admitted possession of drug paraphernalia, Justice Pfeifer cited a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Missouri v. Seibert, in which the Court characterized this interrogation technique as “question first,” and held that the post- Miranda admission made by the suspect in that case was just as inadmissible as her original statement made in response to unwarned questioning while in police custody.

Justice Pfeifer acknowledged that, while Seibert bars trial testimony about a suspect's un- Mirandized statements, the U.S. Supreme Court held in United States v. Patane (2004) that physical evidence obtained as a result of an unwarned custodial statement was not barred from admission at trial by the Fifth Amendment. Thus, Justice Pfeifer wrote, “(t)o hold that the physical evidence seized as a result of unwarned statements is inadmissible, we would have to hold that Section 10, Article I of the Ohio Constitution provides greater protection to criminal defendants than the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We so find here.”

In support of that holding, Justice Pfeifer wrote: “In cases like this one, where possession is the basis for the crime and physical evidence is the keystone of the case, warning suspects of their rights can hinder the gathering of evidence. When physical evidence is central to a conviction and testimonial evidence is not, there can arise a virtual incentive to flout Miranda. We believe that the overall administration of justice in Ohio requires a law-enforcement environment in which evidence is gathered in conjunction with Miranda, not in defiance of it. We thus join the other states that have already determined after Patane that their state constitutions' protections against self-incrimination extend to physical evidence seized as a result of pre- Miranda statements.”

Finally, the majority opinion reversed the court of appeals and held that, without additional supporting evidence that was not present in this case, the faint aroma of burnt marijuana in the passenger area of Farris' vehicle was not sufficient probable cause to support the trooper's warrantless search of the trunk.

Justice Pfeifer wrote that “(a) trunk and a passenger compartment of a vehicle are subject to different standards of probable cause to conduct searches,” and noted that, in the 2002 decision State v. Murrell, the Court held that “when a police officer has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, the officer, as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, may search the passenger compartment of that automobile.”

The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justices Maureen O'Connor and Judith Ann Lanzinger.

Justice Alice Robie Resnick entered an opinion that was joined by Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Terrence O'Donnell in which she concurred in part and dissented in part from the majority holding. Justice Resnick concurred with the majority's rulings that the trooper did not act unreasonably in detaining Farris based on the aroma of marijuana in his vehicle, that Farris was in police custody when he was questioned by the trooper about drug paraphernalia, and that his post- Miranda statements following prior unwarned custodial questioning were inadmissible at trial.

Justice Resnick expressed strong disagreement, however, with the majority holdings that physical evidence seized from Farris' trunk was inadmissible under Section 15, Article I of the state constitution and that the smell of burnt marijuana in a vehicle is not sufficient to support a warrantless search of the defendant's entire vehicle, including the trunk. She wrote that the Court “need not and should not” have engaged in a comparative analysis of state and federal constitutional provisions because the admissibility of evidence from Farris' trunk does not turn on a Miranda violation but rather on the “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment requirement for search warrants.

Pointing to this Court's 2000 ruling in State v. Moore and a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Ross, Justice Resnick wrote that these precedents state that the smell of marijuana, alone, is sufficient grounds to conduct a warrantless search a vehicle, and that “(if) probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.”

Martin Frantz, 330.262.3030, for the State of Ohio.

Robert E. Kerper Jr., 330.376.7446, for Stephen Farris.