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Date: 09-14-2020

Case Style:


Case Number: 1-20-11

Judge: John R. Willamowski


Plaintiff's Attorney: Jana E. Emerick

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: Lima, OH - operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. a drug of abuse or a combination of them

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{¶2} Officer Christopher Lemke (“Officer Lemke”) works for the Lima
Police Department. Tr. 4. At roughly 1:00 A.M. on July 13, 2019, Officer Lemke
was on patrol. Tr. 5. As he was driving westbound on State Street, Officer Lemke
observed a white sport utility vehicle (“SUV”) that was driven by Little make a right
turn into the eastbound lane of State Street. Tr. 5, 8, 9. After the SUV completed
this turn, it “stopped in the middle of the roadway.” Tr. 5-6, 8. Officer Lemke
testified that he was driving in the opposite direction as Little was and had to
maneuver around Little’s stopped SUV in order to drive past him. Tr. 6, 8-9.
{¶3} After he drove past the SUV, Officer Lemke turned his cruiser around
in the next intersection. Tr. 5. However, as Officer Lemke was turning his cruiser
around, the SUV “took off at a high rate of speed.” Tr. 6. Officer Lemke began to
follow after the SUV. Tr. 6. He then observed the SUV approach a stop sign. Tr.
6. Officer Lemke testified that he saw Little “slow[] down and hit the brakes” before
the SUV “rolled right through the intersection.” Tr. 6, 10. At this point, Officer
Lemke activated the lights of his cruiser and initiated a traffic stop. Tr. 6, 8. In
Case No. 1-20-11
response, Little eventually stopped his SUV, opened his door, and fled on foot away
from his vehicle. Ex. 1. Tr. 6, 11. Officer Lemke then pursued Little on foot and
apprehended him. Ex. 1. Tr. 11. Officer Lemke testified that he noticed signs of
impairment as he walked Little towards the police cruiser. Tr. 12.
{¶4} On August 15, 2019, Little was indicted on one count of operating a
vehicle under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse or a combination of them in
violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(b), 4511.19(G)(1)(d) and one count of operating a
vehicle under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them in
violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a), 4511.19(G)(1)(d). Doc. 5. On October 8, 2019,
Little filed a motion to suppress, alleging that the stop of his vehicle was illegal.
Doc. 26. On October 18, 2019, the trial court held a suppression hearing at which
Officer Lemke testified. Tr. 1. The State also offered video footage from Officer
Lemke’s body camera and his cruiser’s dashboard camera as evidence. Ex. 1. On
October 24, 2019, the trial court denied Little’s motion to suppress. Doc. 34.
{¶5} On January 8, 2020, Little entered a plea of no contest to the first count
in the indictment. Doc. 46. The second count with which Little had been charged
was then dismissed. Doc. 46. The trial court found Little guilty of the offense
operating under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them
in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(b). Doc. 47. The trial court sentenced Little on
February 20, 2020. Doc. 51.

Case No. 1-20-11
Assignment of Error
{¶6} The appellant filed his notice of appeal on February 28, 2020. Doc. 53.
On appeal, Little raises the following assignment of error:
The trial court erred in overruling the Defendant-Appellant’s
motion to suppress as law enforcement lacked reasonable
suspicion to stop the Defendant-Appellant.
Little argues that the trial court’s decision to deny his motion to suppress was not
supported by competent, credible evidence.
Legal Standard
{¶7} The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees
“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures * * *.” Fourth Amendment, United
States Constitution. The Ohio Constitution offers a parallel provision to the Fourth
Amendment of the Federal Constitution that has been generally held to afford the
same level of protection as the United States Constitution. State v. Hoffman, 141
Ohio St.3d 428, 2014-Ohio-4795, 25 N.E.3d 993, ¶ 11, citing State v. Robinette, 80
Ohio St.3d 234, 685 N.E.2d 762 (1997). “[A] police stop of a motor vehicle and
the resulting detention of its occupants has been held to be a seizure under the Fourth
Amendment.” State v. Kerr, 3d Dist. Allen No. 1-17-01, 2017-Ohio-8516, ¶ 13,
citing Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979)
{¶8} “In order to initiate a constitutionally permissible traffic stop, law
enforcement must, at a minimum, have a reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe
Case No. 1-20-11
that a crime has been committed or is being committed.” State v. Smith, 2018-Ohio1444, 110 N.E.3d 944, ¶ 8 (3d Dist.), citing State v. Andrews, 57 Ohio St.3d 86, 565
N.E.2d 1271 (1991).
“The Supreme Court of Ohio has defined ‘reasonable articulable
suspicion’ as ‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together
with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the
intrusion [upon an individual’s freedom of movement].’” State v.
Shaffer, 2013-Ohio-3581, 4 N.E.3d 400, ¶ 18 (3d Dist.), quoting
State v. Bobo, 37 Ohio St.3d 177, 178, 524 N.E.2d 489 (1988),
quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d
889 (1968). “Reasonable suspicion entails some minimal level of
objective justification for making a stop—that is, something more
than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch,’ but
less than the level of suspicion required for probable cause.” Kerr,
supra, at ¶ 15, quoting State v. Jones, 70 Ohio App.3d 554, 556-
557, 591 N.E.2d 810 (2d Dist. 1990).
(Bracketed Insertion Sic.) Smith at ¶ 9. “Furthermore, these circumstances are to
be viewed through the eyes of the reasonable and prudent police officer on the scene
who must react to events as they unfold.” Andrews, supra, at 88-89. “A court
reviewing the officer’s actions must give due weight to his experience and training
and view the evidence as it would be understood by those in law enforcement.” Id.
at 88.
{¶9} “A police officer may initiate a traffic stop after witnessing a traffic
violation.” Smith at ¶ 10, citing Dayton v. Erickson, 76 Ohio St.3d 3, 11, 665 N.E.2d
1091, 1097 (1996). R.C. 4511.43(A) reads, in its relevant part, as follows:
Except when directed to proceed by a law enforcement officer,
every driver of a vehicle * * * approaching a stop sign shall stop
at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the
Case No. 1-20-11
crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or, if none, then at
the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a
view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before
entering it.
R.C. 4511.43(A). See Lima Codified Ordinance 432.18(a). A driver’s failure to
comply with a stop sign is a traffic violation that provides a police officer with
probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. See State v. Miller, 3d Dist. Marion No. 9-
14-50, 2015-Ohio-3529, ¶ 13; Akron v. Buchwald, 9th Dist. Summit No. 21433,
2003-Ohio-5044, ¶ 15; State v. Mihely, 11th Dist. Ashtabula Nos. 2001-A-0083,
2001-A-0084, 2002-Ohio-6939, ¶ 11.
{¶10} “To deter Fourth Amendment violations, the Supreme Court of the
United States has adopted an exclusionary rule under which ‘any evidence that is
obtained during an unlawful search or seizure will be excluded from being used
against the defendant.’” Kerr, supra, at ¶ 17, quoting State v. Steinbrunner, 3d Dist.
Auglaize No. 2-11-27, 2012-Ohio-2358, ¶ 12. Thus, the appropriate remedy for a
Fourth Amendment violation is generally the suppression of any illegally obtained
evidence. State v. O’Neal, 3d Dist. Allen No. 1-07-33, 2008-Ohio-512, ¶ 19.
{¶11} “Appellate review of a decision on a motion to suppress presents a
mixed question of law and fact.” State v. Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio5372, 797 N.E.2d 71, ¶ 8.
At a suppression hearing, the trial court assumes the role of trier
of fact and, as such, is in the best position to evaluate the evidence
and the credibility of witnesses. [Burnside at ¶ 8]. See also State
v. Carter, 72 Ohio St.3d 545, 552[, 651 N.E.2d 965] (1995). When
Case No. 1-20-11
reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, deference is given to
the trial court’s findings of fact so long as they are supported by
competent, credible evidence. Burnside at ¶ 8, citing State v.
Fanning, 1 Ohio St.3d 19[, 437 N.E.2d 583] (1982). With respect
to the trial court’s conclusions of law, however, our standard of
review is de novo; therefore, we must decide whether the facts
satisfy the applicable legal standard. Id., citing State v.
McNamara, 124 Ohio App.3d 706, 710[, 707 N.E.2d 539] (4th Dist.
State v. Sidney, 3d Dist. Allen No. 1-19-32, 2019-Ohio-5169, ¶ 8.
Legal Analysis
{¶12} At the suppression hearing, Officer Lemke testified that he saw Little
approach a stop sign in his SUV, “slow[] down and hit the brakes” before he “rolled
right through the intersection.” Tr. 6. Officer Lemke later affirmed that Little’s
SUV did not come to a complete stop before entering the intersection and stated that
the SUV went through the intersection at “approximately five/ten miles an hour * *
*.” Tr. 17. The prosecution also introduced video footage from a camera on the
police cruiser’s dashboard. Ex. 1. The stop sign and Little’s brake lights can be
discerned on this video footage. Ex. 1. Doc. 34.
{¶13} However, whether Little stopped his SUV before he crossed into the
intersection is unclear in this footage as the police cruiser was turning at roughly the
same time that Little was approaching the stop sign. Ex. 1. When presented with
this inconclusive video footage at the suppression hearing, Officer Lemke indicated
that he, from his vantage point, could see that Little rolled through the stop sign
without stopping. Tr. 10. He said, “I looked to the right and * * * s[aw] the vehicle
Case No. 1-20-11
slowing down and so I kept eyes on the vehicle. As I turned right the vehicle let off
the brake and continued through the intersection.” Tr. 10.
{¶14} The dashboard camera was not in a position to capture Little’s actions
clearly as he approached the stop sign. Ex. 1. But this does not mean that Officer
Lemke was not in a position to see Little’s actions as he approached the stop sign.
Thus, while this video footage does not confirm Officer Lemke’s testimony, this
video footage also does not contradict his testimony. The fact that the trial court
relied on Officer Lemke’s statements in the absence of video footage that confirmed
his testimony does not mean that the trial court erred. See State/City of Toledo v.
Reese, 2018-Ohio-2981, 112 N.E.3d 514, ¶ 23 (6th Dist.) (wherein the trial court
relied an officer’s testimony as to the pace of a vehicle even though the video
footage did not capture the relevant speed readings).
{¶15} Officer Lemke’s testimony provided the trial court with some
competent, credible evidence from which it could determine that Little failed to
comply with a stop sign. Since the trial court’s decision was based on some
competent, credible evidence, this Court will not disturb the trial court’s factual
findings and will turn to examining the trial court’s legal conclusion in this matter.
After finding that Officer Lemke’s testimony was “credible,” the trial court
determined that he “had an objectively reasonable justification for making the stop”
because he observed Little fail to stop his SUV at the stop sign. Doc. 47.
Case No. 1-20-11
{¶16} The failure to comply with a stop sign is a violation of R.C.
4511.43(A) and/or Lima Codified Ordinance 432.18(a). See R.C. 4511.43(A); Lima
Codified Ordinance 432.18(a). Since Officer Lemke witnessed Little commit a
traffic violation, Officer Lemke had more than the reasonable, articulable suspicion
that was required to initiate a traffic stop of Little’s SUV. This traffic violation, by
itself, can serve as a sufficient legal basis for the traffic stop in this case. State v.
Pratt, 4th Dist. Pickaway No. 99CA53, 2000 WL 1281217, *2-3 (Sept. 5, 2000);
State v. Akers, 2016-Ohio-7216, 72 N.E.3d 135 (7th Dist.). After reviewing the trial
court’s decision, we do not find any error in the trial court’s application of the law
to these facts.
{¶17} On appeal, Little also argues that he did not impede traffic in violation
of R.C. 4511.22(A) and/or Lima Codified Ordinance 434.06(a) by stopping on the
roadway. Little asserted that he stopped to allow the police cruiser to have the
necessary space to pass through that stretch of roadway. Tr. 19. At the suppression
hearing, Officer Lemke had testified that he believed that Little had impeded traffic
by stopping in the roadway. We note that the trial court never found that Little
committed the violation of impeding traffic. Doc. 34.
{¶18} However, we ultimately do not need to address the issue of whether
Little stopping in the roadway provided Officer Lemke with a reasonable,
articulable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop because Officer Lemke later witnessed
Little fail to comply with a stop sign. As we have already noted, Little’s failure to
Case No. 1-20-11
comply with a stop sign provided Officer Lemke with a sufficient legal justification
to initiate a traffic stop. Thus, whether Officer Lemke had a reasonable, articulable
suspicion that could have served as grounds to stop Little’s vehicle earlier is
irrelevant in this case.
{¶19} In the end, Officer Lemke’s testimony provided some competent,
credible evidence from which the trial court could conclude that Little had
committed the traffic violation of failing to comply with a stop sign and could
conclude that Officer Lemke had a legal justification to conduct a traffic stop. After
reviewing the evidence produced at the suppression hearing, we conclude that the
trial court did not err in denying Little’s motion to suppress. Thus, Little’s sole
assignment of error is overruled.

Outcome: Having found no error prejudicial to the appellant in the particulars
assigned and argued, the judgment of the Allen County Court of Common Pleas is

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