Friday, January 14, 2011

DUI Appeal of the Day (DAD) - Suicidal Stop Reversed

In State of Ohio v. Dunn, Slip Copy, 2010 WL 5452112 (Ohio App. 2 Dist.), 2010 -Ohio- 6340, a police officer received a dispatch notice that there was a suicidal male driving a tow truck and that he was planning to kill himself when he arrived at certain location. The dispatcher gave Appellant's name as the driver and mentioned that he had a weapon. The dispatcher noted that the vehicle was a “big rig” tow truck displaying the name “Sandy's” towing company. Officer Brazel spotted the tow truck and called for backup assistance before initiating a traffic stop. Butler Township police arrived and the two officers signaled for Appellant to pull over. After stopping the rig, Appellant immediately exited the vehicle and was visibly upset and crying. The officers saw Appellant holding a cell phone, but did not observe any weapon. The officers drew their weapons, patted Appellant down and handcuffed him. They did not find any weapon on his person other than a small pocketknife. As Officer Brazel was walking back to his police cruiser, Appellant stated: “[I]t's in the glove box.” The officer asked him if he was referring to the gun, and Appellant said “yes.” Butler Township Sergeant Stanley checked the glove compartment and found a loaded weapon, and he confiscated and secured the weapon. Neither officer had explained the Miranda rights in any fashion to Appellant during or after these events. Officer Brazel drove Appellant to Good Samaritan Hospital to be involuntarily committed. During the drive, Appellant told the officer that he had been having problems with his wife and that he intended to shoot himself after he dropped off his tow truck.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress, alleging that the stop was unlawful. The trial court denied the motion. The trial court determined that the police were acting in response to an emergency and found that the need to protect or preserve life provided the exigent reasonable circumstances to justify the traffic stop.

The trial court also found that the police officers did not engage in custodial interrogation, and therefore, Appellant's voluntary comments made during the traffic stop should not be suppressed. The defendant was convicted and this appeal ensued. The defense argued on appeal that, because the arrest was based on a police dispatch bulletin, the state was required to establish the factual basis of the bulletin at the suppression hearing. The appeals court agreed, stating that the dispatcher did not testify at the hearing, and the record was completely devoid of any evidence to show that the dispatcher had a reasonable basis to issue the dispatcher's bulletin. The appellate court stated that "because there was no factual basis established for the traffic stop, all evidence deriving from the stop should have been suppressed." The court further elaborated:

In the instant case, there is nothing in Officer Brazel's testimony to establish the basis for the dispatcher's bulletin that led to Appellant's traffic stop. Although the parties mention in their appellate briefs that Appellant's wife was the informant, and it is possible that all of the parties understood this to be the case, the record is completely silent to this fact at the suppression hearing. Officer Brazel testified that he did not know who the informant was at the time and had no direct conversation with the informant. (Tr., p. 19.) In fact, there is no information about the informant contained anywhere within the transcript of the suppression hearing. Nothing in Officer Brazel's testimony explains what precipitated the dispatcher to send a report that Appellant was suicidal and had a gun in the vehicle. Because Officer Brazel was the only person who testified at the suppression hearing, and the officer supplied absolutely no testimony relative to the information, we must conclude that the state did not fulfill its burden to establish that the police dispatcher had a reasonable basis to send the bulletin which led to the traffic stop.

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