Ohio’s Eight District Court of Appeals Addresses Propriety of Traffic Stop
Last Thursday, Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals issued a decision in State v. Jones (8th Dist. 2014), 99837, holding that police officers improperly detained a motorist for having an obstructed license plate after the officers had approached the vehicle and had no problem reading the plate.
The case stems from a traffic stop by Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officers of Timur Jones. The Officers observed Jones driving a vehicle with a rear license plate that the Officers claimed could not be read. The Officers testified that the plate was partially obstructed by a tinted license plate cover and a ball mounted on a trailer hitch. After following Defendant’s vehicle for several blocks while unsuccessfully attempting to read the license plate, the Officers conducted a traffic stop.
The Officers approached the vehicle and spoke to Jones. After speaking with Jones, the Officers walked to the rear of the vehicle where they were able to read the entire license plate. Jones admitted that his driver’s license was suspended. Because the vehicle was going to be towed, the Officers began conducting an inventory and recovered a bag of cocaine. Jones was arrested and later indicted for drug trafficking.
Prior to trial, Jones filed a motion to suppress the traffic stop and search, arguing that his license plate was not obstructed and, therefore, the Officers had no reason to stop him. Jones introduced a photograph of the rear license plate in which the entires rear license plate could be seen and testified that the vehicle was in the same condition as on the day of his arrest. Further, the owner of the vehicle testified that she received a traffic-camera ticket which was proof that the license plate was not obstructed. The trial court sustained Jones’ motion and the State of Ohio appealed.
On appeal, the Eighth District Court of Appeals opined that, because the Officers “had an unobstructed view of the rear license plate and had no problem reading the plate***[and] provided no separate and articulable reason to continue Jones’ detention***” the trial court did not err in suppressing evidence discovered from the search of the vehicle.
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