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Date: 07-06-2020

Case Style:

STATE OF OHIO v. SEAN CHAPPELL

Case Number: 28598

Judge: Mary E. Donovan

Court: IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Plaintiff's Attorney: ANDREW T. FRENCH

Defendant's Attorney:


If you need a Criminal Defense Attorney in Ohio, call at 918-582-6422.


Description:














{¶ 1} The State of Ohio appeals from the trial court’s order granting Sean
Chappell’s motion to suppress. Chappell had been indicted on one count of improper
handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle. The trial court concluded that the State had
failed to establish that the firearm found inside Chappell’s vehicle was in plain view
exception to the search warrant requirement. We affirm the trial court’s order.
{¶ 2} On July 16, 2019, Chappell was indicted on one count of improper handling
of a firearm in a motor vehicle (loaded, no license), in violation of R.C. 2923.16(B), and
the trial court entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. On August 12, 2019, Chappell
filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the police unlawfully detained and searched him
and his automobile without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
{¶ 3} A hearing was held on the motion to suppress on September 30, 2019. The
evidence presented at the suppression hearing was as follows.
{¶ 4} Detective Tyler Orndorff of the Dayton Police Department (“DPD”), who was
a “drug detective” assigned to the “Narcotics Bureau, Street Crimes, Nights Unit,” testified
that on the afternoon of June 6, 2019, he and Detective Zach O’Diam were involved in “a
crime blitz” targeting violent crime areas. There had been a recent homicide near the
DeSoto Bass area, and he and O’Diam were assigned in that area; they were in plain
clothes and in an unmarked vehicle. According to Orndorff, their purpose during the
crime blitz was to conduct surveillance of individuals they believed might be selling
narcotics and/or in possession of firearms, especially in and around the DeSoto Bass
area, due to the recent violent crime there.
{¶ 5} Orndorff testified that, on June 6, 2019, he and O’Diam witnessed a blue
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Chevy Malibu on Clement Avenue that was parked next to a home that appeared to be
vacant. This was significant to the officers because, in Orndorff’s experience and
training, he had witnessed numerous drug activities occur in abandoned homes.
Orndorff testified that he concluded that the home where the Malibu was parked was
abandoned because the shades were closed and the grass was overgrown.
{¶ 6} Orndorff testified that he and O’Diam were able to observe the features,
clothing, and hairstyles of the driver and passenger in the vehicle. The vehicle left the
vacant home after they had observed it for about ten minutes, travelling south on Clement
and turning east on Weaver Street. Orndorff testified that the vehicle began to “pick up
speed” in a residential area and travel in excess of the posted speed of 25 miles per hour.
Orndorff testified that the officers were unable to keep up with the vehicle, but they saw it
turn south onto Trieschman Avenue; they lost sight of the vehicle for approximately two
minutes, and then observed it again on Miami Chapel Road, in front of “shotgun-style
apartments.” At that time, they continued to conduct surveillance; the vehicle was
“parked facing east on the north side of the curb, so it was parked illegally” on Miami
Chapel Avenue.
{¶ 7} Orndorff contacted a uniformed crew to make a stop for the parking infraction
and the speeding that he and O’Diam had witnessed. He and O’Diam provided the plate
number, the make, model, and color of the vehicle, a description of the driver, and the
number of persons inside the vehicle. Sgt. Ryan Halburnt subsequently arrived in a
marked cruiser and made a traffic stop of the vehicle.
{¶ 8} Orndorff testified that while Halburnt was initiating the traffic stop, Orndorff
observed Chappell approaching the vehicle on foot; Orndorff recognized Chappell as the
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driver of the vehicle. According to Orndorff, in the course of his surveillance of the
vehicle, he had seen that the driver had “short, twisty braids, or almost small, short
dreads”; Orndorff was “100 percent able to identify [Chappell]” at the traffic stop by “his
hair, his size, his height, color of his t-shirt.”
{¶ 9} A cruiser camera video from Halburnt’s cruiser was played for the court.
Orndorff identified Chappell in the video as the person in a white t-shirt approaching the
parked Malibu. Halburnt approached Chappell. Orndorff identified himself on the video
as the person exiting the passenger side of the unmarked cruiser and crossing in front of
Halburnt’s cruiser. Orndorff testified as follows about O’Diam’s approach of the
passenger side of Chappell’s vehicle, as depicted in the video:
[PROSECUTOR] Q. And the individual in the black vest, is that * * *
Det. O’Diam?
A. Yes, it is.
Q. And when he opens the door and pulls that passenger out, does
he relay information to you?
A. Yeah, he - - at some point, he relays information that there is a
firearm inside the vehicle. I believe that he see [sic] it - - he seen it before
he - -
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Objection to - -
A. - - opened the door.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: - - everything that O’Diam told him.
THE COURT: I believe in a motion to suppress, there’s some - - is it
special? Hearsay is generally admissible, right, on the motion to
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suppress? * * *
[PROSECUTOR]: Yes, Your Honor. * * *
THE COURT: Plus, this is kind of – it’s just, I, police - -
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: * * * I believe it’s up to the discretion of the
Court, but if he’s just setting the scene up, that is something that is
acceptable. But for the purpose of setting the scene, not for the truth of
whether or not O’Diam saw anything.
THE COURT: Overruled, with that understanding.
BY [PROSECUTOR]:
Q. So he related information to you about a location of a gun; did
you later see that gun that he was talking about?
A. I did.
Q. And can you describe where you saw it?
A. * * * It was in the driver’s side door, in the compartment of the
driver door.
Q. And from the vantage point of where O’Diam is, would that have
been visible to him - -
A. Yes, it would be.
Q. - - based off of what - - where you saw the gun?
A. That is correct.
{¶ 10} On cross-examination, Orndorff testified that the officers did not observe
anyone approach the vehicle while it was parked near the abandoned home during their
prior surveillance of the Malibu.
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{¶ 11} The cruiser camera video was played again for the court, and Orndorff
identified Halburnt’s voice in the video. When asked to describe his own actions in the
video, Orndorff responded that due to Chappell’s actions, which included “beginning to
pull away” and not allowing Halburnt to conduct a pat-down, he (Orndorff) went to assist
Halburnt with the traffic stop. Orndorff testified that he was not familiar with Chappell
and did not have any information that Chappell was armed and dangerous.
{¶ 12} Orndorff identified O’Diam in the video, the following exchange occurred:
[PROSECUTOR] Q. * * * Now * * * so this is a traffic complaint. Do
you know why [O’Diam] walks to the automobile to extract the passenger?
A. Well, if you’re referring to why he removed the passenger, the
passenger was removed because of the gun that was inside the vehicle - -
Q. Okay.
A. - - that was in plain view.
Q. At what point was the gun seen?
A. I can’t speak to when Det. O’Diam saw it, but I’d assume that he
saw it as soon as he walked up to the vehicle because from my vantage
point, when I looked inside the vehicle, it was readily available and at hand
in the driver compartment - -
Q. Okay.
A. - - side door there.
Q. Now - - when you looked in the vehicle, correct?
A. Yes, when I looked.
Q. But we have no idea, at this point - - okay. First of all, we agree
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he is not in the uniform of the day. He is not in a typical police uniform,
correct?
A. Correct.
Q. So is he assisting in a traffic stop right now?
A. Yes, he would be.
Q. * * * Is that ordinary, for undercover to assist?
A. It does happen quite frequently, yes.
* * *
Q. - - it happens because you call ahead because you are
suspicious of an individual, correct?
A. Sure, yeah. I believe that.
Q. * * * You have a hunch. There’s a hunch something’s going on,
right?
A. Yeah. Yeah.
Q. And then what you do is you tell a uniform crew to do a traffic
stop, and then you explore that hunch a bit more, correct?
A. I believe that’s fair.
Orndorff also testified that Halburnt was wearing a microphone in the course of the traffic
stop, that he (Orndorff) was not, and that his and O’Diam’s vehicle did not have a camera.
{¶ 13} On redirect examination, Orndorff testified that Chappell was cited for the
parking violation; Chappell was detained for the “traffic stop, both the speeding and the
parking infraction,” and not based upon the officers’ observation of him by the abandoned
home. No contraband was found on Chappell’s person. Orndorff testified that O’Diam’s
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vest at the scene identified him as a member of law enforcement and that O’Diam was
no longer employed with the DPD, but was employed as a DEA agent.
{¶ 14} Sergeant Ryan Halburnt of the DPD testified that he had more than 21 years
of law enforcement experience and that, in the course of his work, he encountered
narcotics daily. On June 6, 2019, Halburnt initiated a traffic stop on Chappell’s vehicle,
based on information from Orndorff and O’Diam that they had observed the vehicle
parked for an extended period of time at a vacant house, started to follow the vehicle but
lost sight of it, then found it a short time later, parked illegally. Halburnt testified as
follows:
[PROSECUTOR] Q. * * * And what do you see when you get there?
A. When I pulled up, I see a car parked, facing the wrong direction.
It’s also more than 12 inches from the curb. I see a black male who’s the
individual right there in the blue sweatshirt, walking towards the vehicle.
And as I pull up, he immediately stops and starts to go the other way.
* * *
Q. And so did you believe the individual outside the car to be the
driver?
A. Based on what I saw, I thought he was the driver of that vehicle
and he was returning to it, yes.
Q. Can you explain some of the reasons why you thought that?
A. The way it was parked, the fact that there was somebody still in
the passenger seat, and the fact that he was walking right towards the car.
And then when he saw me, he immediately turned around and started to go
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the other way.
* * *
A. There was nobody else outside or around the vehicle.
Q. So when you first pull up on the scene, you get out of your car
and you go to Mr. Chappell. Is he under arrest at that point?
A. No, but I was detaining him. And the fact that he was turning
around to walk the other way, I felt like he was about to run, based on my
training and experience in that situation.
Q. * * * And are you familiar with this area?
A. Yes.
Q. What is your experience in this area?
A. I’ve been a patrolman for 18 years with Dayton. I’ve worked the
West Patrol my whole career. * * * I’ve served drug search warrants in that
apartment building, I’ve served multiple drug search warrants around that
property, and I’ve made arrests in patrol as well, in cruisers in that area.
Q. So when he makes those movements at that point, do you stop
him and pat him down?
A. Yes. I immediately went to him because in my experience, the
quicker I get out to him, the less chance they have to get away.
Q. And ultimately is he handcuffed?
A. Yes, because - -
Q. And can you explain - -
A. -- as I got to him, he still kept trying to pull away. I call it verbal
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compliance with active resistance. He’s saying, I don’t understand what
you’re doing. But the whole time, he’s not listening to what I’m asking him
to do.
Q. And what was he doing?
A. Starting to pull away. He kept asking questions, what was going
on, which is understandable. * * *
Q. And ultimately, * * * when you’re patting him down, you don’t find
any contraband on him or any evidence that we’re using in this case; is that
right?
A. No, ma’am.
{¶ 15} On cross-examination, Halburnt testified that he issued a parking citation to
Chappell for the parking violation he observed, but that he was not there “just for this
parking * * * enforcement action”; Halburnt testified that the parking violation was “one
thing” in a “long list” of “the totality of the circumstances” for which Chappell was stopped.
Halburnt testified that Chappell exited the nearby apartment building before he
approached the vehicle.
{¶ 16} The following exchange occurred:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL] Q. So when you approached this car, you
were approaching it as though you had a reasonable suspicion that they
were involved in drugs or weapons?
A. Some sort of criminal activity, I thought, was happening, yes.
Q. Okay. * * *
A. Especially once he stopped and turned around to walk away
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from the vehicle to try to distance himself from the vehicle that we knew he
was driving.
Q. * * * You know what a consensual encounter is, correct?
A. Yes, sir, I do.
Q. Now, one of the ways one would communicate that it’s not
consensual is to turn and walk the other way, correct?
A. I think my activated - - my overhead lights, we all knew at that
point it was not consensual.
Q. * * * So you identified yourself * * * to him, that you were focusing
on him and not the automobile?
A. Yes.
Q. * * * And * * * the undercover individuals came fairly quickly,
correct?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did you tell O’Diam? Did you give him any instructions?
* * *
A. No. I was helping them conduct their investigation.
Q. * * * So your traffic * * * stop was a part of their investigation, it
just wasn’t traffic-related solely?
A. This was not based strictly on the fact that that car was parked
illegally. It’s the fact that they saw it for [an] extended period of time, that
it fled at a high rate of speed, that we think the driver - - now, I want to figure
out if he’s valid, if he has a license, why he’s driving like that * * * why he’s
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parked illegally. Those are all things that I was considering.’
Halburnt testified that he did not tell O’Diam to remove the passenger from the vehicle.
{¶ 17} On October 24, 2019, the trial court issued a decision captioned, “Decision
and Entry Overruling Defendant’s Motion to Suppress.” The following day, however, it
issued an identical decision captioned, “Amended Decision and Entry Granting
Defendant’s Motion to Suppress.” In its decision, the trial court found that encounter
between the officers and Chappell was not a consensual encounter, and that this fact was
not disputed. The court found that the officers had had reasonable, articulable suspicion
that the driver of the blue Chevrolet committed a parking violation. The court found that
the driver, Chappell, should have been cited, but not arrested. The court noted that
Halburnt seized Chappell, by means of his overhead lights, and that Chappell “was no
longer operating the blue Chevrolet” at that time. The court found that, under the totality
of the circumstances, Halburnt, who observed the parking violation first hand, “had
reasonable and articulable suspicion of a traffic and parking violation, so as to warrant a
traffic stop.” The court noted that Halburnt also “had a report from a reliable and known
source” that Chappell had violated the speeding laws on various streets in the area.
Therefore, Chappell’s “seizure on scene was lawful while Sergeant Halburnt conducted
his investigation and processed a parking law citation.”
{¶ 18} The court noted, however, that the conclusion that Sgt. Halburnt had
conducted a proper traffic stop and had reasonably detained Chappell did not “completely
resolve” the issues; Chappell also asserted that the search of the automobile was
improper because Chappell was outside of the automobile when the search occurred.
{¶ 19} In discussing the plain view exception to the warrant requirement, the trial
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court determined that, for the doctrine to apply here, the State was required to show that
Det. O’Diam’s “intrusion” affording the plain view was lawful. In other words, O’Diam
“must [have been] in a place where it [was] lawful for him to be when he [saw] the firearm
in the driver’s side door,” and the incriminating nature of the firearm must have been
immediately apparent” to O’Diam. The court found that the evidence offered in support
of these two requirements presented “a difficult issue” in this case.
{¶ 20} Regarding a lawful intrusion into the vehicle, the court noted that the driver,
Chappell, was already out of the car; it was not a situation where an officer saw the firearm
as the driver was exiting the vehicle. Rather, O’Diam arguably saw it “as a passenger
[was] requested to exit the vehicle.” The court observed that O’Diam went to the
passenger side of the car “very soon after arriving on scene” and could be seen on the
cruiser camera video “almost immediately opening the door.” According to Orndorff, it
was at this point that O’Diam stated to Orndorff that he saw a firearm in the driver’s side
door. The court noted that it was unclear whether O’Diam saw the firearm before or
after the door was opened, but that this detail may have been “immaterial,” because it
was reasonable for O’Diam to order the passenger out of the vehicle; thus, whether
O’Diam was on the street on the passenger side of the car or lawfully ordering the
passenger out of the car, he was in “a lawful place” when he observed the gun.
{¶ 21} The court concluded, however, that Chappell offered “a valid argument” that
“the evidence [was] lacking” about when O’Diam saw the firearm and/or how the
observation occurred. The court noted that, in O’Diam’s absence, Orndorff recounted
O’Diam’s statement at the hearing, but the court characterized that statement hearsay, in
that it was offered for the truth of the matter asserted. “Detective Orndorff said that
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O’Diam told him that he saw the firearm in the driver’s side door compartment.”
{¶ 22} The court recognized that the Rules of Evidence do not apply at a hearing
on a motion to suppress, and thus the status of testimony as hearsay did “not per se bar
use at an evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress.” Thus, the court had discretion
in this area. The court noted that, very shortly after O’Diam’s statement to Orndorff,
Orndorff Detective verified the report of the presence of a gun. The court found that
“there are some indicia of credibility. So the court finds there is evidence to establish
that this was a lawful intrusion.”
{¶ 23} The Court observed:
The principle authority for the proposition that hearsay is admissible
in a motion to suppress hearing is United States v. Matlock, [415 U.S. 164,
94 S.Ct. 988, 39 L.Ed.2d 242 (1974)]. In Matlock, the United States
Supreme Court held that a hearsay statement about consent supported a
search. In that case, the Court cited the general rule with respect to
receiving hearsay evidence in a suppression hearing. The Court then went
on to analyze the out of court declaration situation. The Court analyze[d]
to determine the likelihood that the statements were true. The Court found
that there was nothing in the record that raised doubt about the truthfulness
of the statement or reason to exclude it at the suppression hearing. In that
case, the declarant[’s] statements were against penal interest and so they
carried their own indicia of reliability.
(Footnote omitted.)
{¶ 24} The court concluded that O’Diam’s statements were not “against penal
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interest” and supported the State’s position, were “self-serving,” and there was “no
objective support of the assertion of O’Diam.” Moreover, the State did not introduce
evidence of the firearm at the hearing, nor was a photograph of it introduced. It was
significant to the court that a video showed the blue Chevrolet, but there was no
photograph of the interior of the vehicle from which the court could evaluate whether
O’Diam could have seen the firearm in a door’s pocket from his vantage point. There
was “simply no evidence of contraband or [a] weapon being found prior to the search,
except O’Diam’s statement.”
{¶ 25} The court noted that it “is reasonable to determine Matlock is holding the
‘bright-line rule’ that provides hearsay is admissible does not qualifiedly apply in all
suppression hearings [sic].” The trial court noted that the Supreme Court of Ohio
“examine[d] circumstances to determine the reliability of the statement in Matlock and
analyze [its] effect. The circumstances of reliability should impact the admissibility of
hearsay to support articulable suspicion, probable cause, or consent.” The court
determined:
In this case, the court examines the testimony about the hearsay.
Officer Orndorff testified, “I can’t speak to when Detective O’Diam saw it,
but I assume he saw it when he walked up to the vehicle.” He later testified,
“I believe he saw . . .” This is equivocal and uncertain language. Other
factors show a lack of verification and unreliability.
The state is arguing, impliedly, if not expressly, that something more
than a minor misdemeanor traffic violation is present here. Thus, the state
is asserting that removing passengers and making an arrest is proper as
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opposed to “cite and release.” One of the items of evidence is the high
crime area. The Second District Court of Appeals has held that acts that
are essentially neutral or ambiguous do not become specifically criminal in
character because they occur in a high crime area. The mere presence of
a vehicle in a high crime area, or even in an area identified with drug activity,
without more, does not give rise to a reasonable, articulable suspicion that
the vehicle, its owner, or its operator, is involved in criminal activity. The
fact that [Chappell] and his occupant were in the Desoto Bass area parked
in an arguably vacant property does not give rise to reasonable, articulable
suspicion to believe they were involved in illegal activity at that time. There
were no reports of drug sales involving the blue Chevrolet. There were no
confidential reports. There were no complaints about the blue Chevrolet.
The second requirement is that the incriminating nature be
immediately apparent. This is with regard to probable cause to believe that
a crime was being committed. A firearm unsecured in a motor vehicle is
probable cause that the statute regarding improperly [sic] handling probably
was being violated as the driver did not have a permit. The exhibit
indicates lack of a permit was not known at the time Detective O’Diam saw
the firearm.
There are some standards for ordering passengers to exit motor
vehicles lawfully during a traffic stop. Occupants cannot be ordered out
simply for the convenience of the police, there needs to be some reason,
such as officer safety. In this case, there was an altercation or differences
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with Defendant. The passenger could have used the vehicle or something
within to harm the officers. It is reasonable to secure the situation so the
passenger could be fully observed by other officers. The court does note
that many police officers arrived on the scene within a short time of the
traffic stop.
* * *
* * * The balancing test should be applied here. On the one hand,
the safety of officers. On the other hand, the intrusion upon the citizen’s
personal security and freedom from arbitrary interference. In this case,
there is no serious threat to officer safety. The driver is out of the car and
the passenger remains in the car. There are more police officers than
citizens. There is no angry crowd. This is a very minor traffic violation that
is being investigated. The police will soon have seven officers on the
scene and it is occurring on a sunny afternoon.
There is no search warrant in this case. * * *
In this case, the state is relying on the plain view exception. The
plain view exception is not sustained here because it is provided on the
basis of hearsay that is not supported by sufficient indicia of reliability and
truthfulness.
{¶ 26} The court further concluded:
A lawful traffic stop was executed here, though apparently pretextual.
There was reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that speeding
and improper parking had occurred, although these officers were in the
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midst of a drug investigation. The appropriateness of the traffic stop does
not end the inquiry. This traffic violation is a minor misdemeanor “cite and
release” type of offense. The officers were required to write a citation and
release Defendant.
The officers conducted a warrantless search of a car. An exception
does not apply because there is not admissible evidence that the plain view
doctrine applies. The search was conducted without a warrant and no
exception applies.
Hearsay is generally admissible and is not always admissible under
every circumstance in a motion to suppress context. The interest of officer
safety did not outweigh the interest in the freedom from interference.
{¶ 27} For these reasons, the trial court granted Chappell’s motion to suppress.
{¶ 28} On November 1, 2019, the State certified that the suppression of the State’s
evidence had “rendered the state’s proof with respect to the pending charge so weak in
its entirety that any reasonable possibility of effective prosecution” had been destroyed,
which permitted the State to appeal pursuant to Crim.R. 12(K)(2).
{¶ 29} On appeal, the State asserts the following assignment of error:
THE CRUISER-CAM VIDEO, ON WHICH DET. O’DIAM CAN BE
HEARD ADVISING OFC. ORNDORFF THAT HE SAW A PISTOL WAS IN
THE VEHICLE, ALONG WITH OFC. ORNDORFF’S OWN TESTIMONY
ABOUT SEEING THE GUN IN THE CAR, UNDERMINES THE TRIAL
COURT’S FINDING THAT NO EVIDENCE WAS ADMITTED THAT THE
GUN WAS SEEN IN PLAIN VIEW. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED,
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THEREFORE, IN SUSTAINING CHAPPELL’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS.
{¶ 30} The State asks this Court to determine whether the trial court fully and
properly considered the totality of the evidence presented by the State at the suppression
hearing when it sustained Chappell’s motion to suppress a firearm located in his car.
The State asserts that, in particular, the trial court erred in concluding that the Orndorff’s
testimony that O’Diam notified him that O’Diam saw a gun in Chappell’s car was “merely
hearsay,” and that the hearsay alone could not be relied upon in determining whether the
gun was in plain view. According to the State, there was in fact other evidence offered
during the suppression hearing confirming that a gun was seen in plain view in Chappell’s
car before a search of the car was undertaken.
{¶ 31} The State asserts that O’Diam removed the passenger after seeing the gun
inside the vehicle in plain view. O’Diam then informed Orndorff and Halburnt that he had
observed a firearm in plain view, and Orndorff also later observed the gun in the car in
plain view in the driver’s side door compartment. The State asserts that, according to
Orndorff, the gun would have been visible to O’Diam standing outside the passenger side
door.
{¶ 32} The State further asserts as follows:
The trial court’s assessment of the evidence is misguided for two
reasons. First, while the trial court found [Orndorff’s] testimony credible
generally, it rejected his testimony about what was said to him by [O’Diam]
about seeing a gun in the car because [O’Diam’s] statement was hearsay
and not verified by other evidence presented at the suppression hearing.
But it is well-settled that hearsay is admissible during suppression hearings
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* * *, and there is nothing that requires an officer’s testimony to be verified
by other evidence before [the court] can rely upon it; if the trial court believes
the officer, that is enough.
Second, additional evidence offered at the suppression hearing did
verify O’Diam’s statement to Orndorff that he saw a gun in the car.
Orndorff testified that he too saw the gun in plain view, and on the cruisercam video [O’Diam] can be heard telling [Orndorff] and [Halburnt] that he
saw a pistol in Chappell’s car, which [Halburnt] announced to the other
officer’s on the scene as being the reason why Chappell was being arrested.
By seeming to ignore this additional evidence, which verified [O’Diam’s]
statement about a gun being in the car, the trial [court] erred in its
assessment of the totality of the evidence. * * *
{¶ 33} The State asserts that the trial court properly found there was reasonable
and articulable suspicion to warrant a traffic stop of Chappell’s vehicle and that O’Diam
was permitted to order the passenger out of the car. However, the State asserts that the
trial court erred in concluding that, “based on the totality of the evidence presented at the
suppression hearing, the State failed in its burden of showing that the gun found in
Chappell’s car was in plain view before it was seized.”
{¶ 34} The State asserts:
In deciding the issue of plain view, the trial court seemingly limited
its review of the evidence to only the testimony of [Orndorff] – and then to
only part of Orndorff’s testimony. Specifically, the trial court based its
decision on the portion of [Orndorff’s] testimony where he explained that
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[O’Diam] told him that he (O’Diam) saw a firearm in the car. * * * The trial
court found this testimony insufficient to show that the firearm was in plain
view because [O’Diam] did not testify at the suppression hearing, and
[Orndorff’s] recounting of what [O’Diam] told him about seeing a firearm was
hearsay that could not be verified by other evidence. * * *
But the trial court ignored the rest of [Orndorff’s] testimony. In
particular, after testifying that [O’Diam] told him that he (O’Diam) saw a
firearm in the car, [Orndorff] went on to explain that the firearm would have
been visible to [O’Diam] from his vantage point alongside the front
passenger door because Orndorff himself also saw the gun in the
compartment of the driver’s side door. * * * When asked on crossexamination to clarify when [O’Diam] first saw the gun, [Orndorff] explained:
I can’t speak to when Det. O’Diam saw it, but I’d assume that he saw it as
soon as he walked up to the vehicle because from my vantage point, when
I looked inside the vehicle, it was readily available [sic] and at hand in the
driver compartment - - side door there.” * * *
In addition to [Orndorff’s] testimony, the cruiser-cam video that was
admitted at the suppression hearing solidified the fact that the gun was seen
by [O’Diam] in plain view before the car was searched. The video shows
[O’Diam] approach the passenger side of the car and speak to the
passenger before removing the passenger from the car. * * * The video then
shows [O’Diam] approach [Orndorff] and [Halburnt] (both are out of camera
range), and [O’Diam] can be overheard saying that there is a pistol on the
-22-
driver’s side. * * * [Halburnt] then tells everyone on scene that Chappell is
being arrested because the car is parked illegally and “the guy [Chappell]
has a gun in the car.” * * *
(Footnote omitted; emphasis added.)
{¶ 35} In a footnote, the State acknowledges that O’Diam’s advisement to Orndorff
and Halburnt was “faint and hard to hear,” but the State further asserts that Halburnt’s
follow-up questions and comments made it clear that O’Diam told him and Orndorff that
he had seen a gun in the car.
{¶ 36} Chappell asserts that the trial court properly excluded the hearsay
statements and that a review of the cruiser video showed that Orndorff was never
positioned anywhere near where O’Diam allegedly made the observation. According to
Chappell, the video showed that, when the unmarked police car pulled up, Orndorff
walked to the front yard of the house to assist in the detention of Chappell, while a
uniformed officer went to O’Diam’s position at the passenger side of the car and stood
behind O’Diam. As depicted in the video, Orndorff then walked to the driver’s side of the
car; 43 seconds later Orndorff opened the driver’s door, looked down at the compartment,
and the search of the vehicle began. Chappell observes that Orndorff was never “in the
same position” as O’Diam on the passenger’s side of the car. Chappell concludes that
the trial court did not ignore Orndorff’s testimony, as the State asserts; rather, it heard the
testimony, considered it, and “found it wanting.” Chappell notes that “[o]ne could
assume” that the uniformed officer who stood behind O’Diam near the passenger side of
the vehicle would have been called as a witness if he could have corroborated O’Diam’s
observation, but he was not called to testify.
-23-
{¶ 37} As this Court has noted:
“In ruling on a motion to suppress, the trial court ‘assumes the role
of the trier of fact, and, as such, is in the best position to resolve questions
of fact and evaluate the credibility of the witnesses.’ ” State v. Prater, 2012-
Ohio-5105, 984 N.E.2d 36, ¶ 7 (2d Dist.), quoting State v. Retherford, 93
Ohio App.3d 586, 592, 639 N.E.2d 498 (2d Dist.1994). “As a result, when
we review suppression decisions, ‘we are bound to accept the trial court's
findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence.
Accepting those facts as true, we must independently determine as a matter
of law, without deference to the trial court's conclusion, whether they meet
the applicable legal standard.’ ” Id., quoting Retherford.
State v. Boyd, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 28490, 2020-Ohio-125, ¶13.
{¶ 38} State v. Brannack, 6th Dist. Williams Nos. WM-04-005, WM-04-006, 2005-
Ohio-1386, is similar to this case in that the trial court derived facts from the testimony of
a trooper as well as a video of the traffic stop at a suppression hearing. Id. at ¶ 3. The
State asserted that the appellate court “need not accord any deference to the trial court’s
findings of fact” because it could view the videotape de novo. Id. at ¶ 27. Significantly,
the Sixth District disagreed, concluding that the fact that an appellate court has access to
a videotape does not change its standard of review. Id. at ¶ 28. The Sixth District applied
the standard of review set forth above, and we agree that the existence of a video does
not change the standard of review. Although it may be tempting to trust or credit a video
of an event, judges should necessarily be wary not to place too much trust in a video,
because doing so may interject the judges’ (or the State’s) subjective and contestable
-24-
interpretative preferences about what gestures and declarations in the video actually
mean. See, generally, Granot, In the Eyes of the Law: Perception Versus Reality in
Appraisals of Video Evidence, 24 Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 93 (2018).
{¶ 39} It is well-settled that “[w]hen a lawfully stopped vehicle contains passengers,
the Fourth Amendment permits law enforcement officers to detain those passengers for
the duration of the lawful detention of the driver.” State v. Brown, 2d Dist. Montgomery
No. 20336, 2004-Ohio-4058, ¶ 14, citing Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 117 S.Ct.
882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997). Further:
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[.]” Searches and
seizures conducted without a warrant are per se unreasonable unless they
come within one of the “ ‘few specifically established and well delineated
exceptions.’ ” Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 372, 113 S.Ct. 2130,
124 L.Ed.2d 334 (1993), quoting Thompson v. Louisiana, 469 U.S. 17, 20,
105 S.Ct. 409, 83 L.Ed.2d 246 (1984). Evidence is inadmissible if it stems
from an unconstitutional search or seizure. Wong Sun v. United States,
371 U.S. 471, 484-85, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963).
The plain view doctrine is an exception to the search warrant
requirement. State v. Hunter, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 24350, 2011-Ohio6321, ¶ 31, citing Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 91 S.Ct. 2022,
29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971). “Under the plain-view exception, ‘police may seize
an article when its incriminating nature is immediately apparent to an officer
-25-
who comes in contact with the item through lawful activity.’ ” State v.
Thompson, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 25658, 2013-Ohio-4825, ¶ 13, quoting
State v. Pounds, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 21257, 2006-Ohio-3040, ¶ 19.
“The police officer need not be absolutely certain that the item seen in plain
view is contraband or evidence of a crime. It is sufficient if probable cause
exists to associate the item with criminal activity.” Pounds at ¶ 19, citing
State v. Stiffler, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 21008, 2006-Ohio-46, ¶ 15.
Boyd at ¶15-16.
{¶ 40} The following is well-settled:
“ ‘Hearsay’ is a statement, other than one made by the declarant
while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth
of the matter asserted.” Evid.R. 801(C). “To constitute hearsay, two
elements are needed. First, there must be an out-of-court statement.
Second, the statement must be offered to prove the truth of the matter
asserted. If either element is not present, the statement is not ‘hearsay.’ ”
(Footnote and citations omitted.) State v. Maurer, 15 Ohio St.3d 239, 262,
473 N.E.2d 768 (1984). Accord State v. Tate, 2d Dist. Montgomery No.
25386, 2013-Ohio-5167, ¶ 75.
Abrams v. Abrams, 2017-Ohio-4319, 92 N.E.3d 368, ¶ 30 (2d Dist.).
{¶ 41} As noted by the Supreme Court of Ohio:
Hearsay statements are deemed sufficiently reliable to allow their
admission without the benefit of cross-examination when the statements (1)
“[fall] within a firmly rooted hearsay exception,” or (2) contain “ ‘adequate
-26-
indicia of reliability.’ ” Ohio v. Roberts (1980), 448 U.S. 56, 66, 100 S.Ct.
2531, 2539, 65 L.Ed.2d 597, 608.
State v. Madrigal, 87 Ohio St.3d 378, 385, 721 N.E.2d 52 (2000).
{¶ 42} In State v. Brown, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 27571, 2018-Ohio-3294, ¶ 21,
this Court observed:
An out of court statement is not hearsay if it “is offered to prove a
statement was made and not for its truth, * * * to show a state of mind, or to
explain an act in question.” Maurer at 262. Accord State v. Williams, 38
Ohio St.3d 346, 348, 528 N.E.2d 910 (1988) (finding “[a] statement is not
hearsay if it is admitted to prove that the declarant made it, rather than to
prove the truth of its contents”). * * *
{¶ 43} This Court has further noted that a trial court has broad discretion1 to admit
or exclude evidence in a suppression hearing, and it is well-settled that the rules of
evidence and the hearsay exclusionary rule do not apply in a suppression hearing. State
v. Bishop, 2d Dist. Clark No. 2003 CA 37, 2004-Ohio-6221, ¶18-19, citing State v.
Woodring, 63 Ohio App.3d 79, 81, 577 N.E.2d 1157 (1989). “In accordance with Evid.R.
101(C)(1) and Evid.R. 104(A), the undisputed status of a witness's testimony as hearsay
does not per se bar its use.” Id.
{¶ 44} We have reviewed the cruiser camera video. It was proffered by the State

1
“ ‘Abuse of discretion’ has been defined as an attitude that is unreasonable, arbitrary or
unconscionable.” (Citation omitted.) AAAA Ents., Inc. v. River Place Community Urban
Redevelopment Corp., 50 Ohio St.3d 157, 161, 553 N.E.2d 597 (1990). Most abuses of
discretion “result in decisions that are simply unreasonable, rather than decisions that are
unconscionable or arbitrary.” Id. Decisions are unreasonable when they are not
supported by a sound reasoning process. Id.
-27-
to support Orndorff’s suggestion that the weapon in the vehicle was visible to O’Diam
before or in the course of his removal of the passenger from the vehicle, and to thereby
attempt to establish the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. We note that
the tape does not reflect the entire interaction of all the officers in the course of the
passenger’s removal and Chappell’s arrest. The camera angle is focused exclusively on
the front of Chappell’s vehicle, and the officers appear and disappear from view in the
course of the encounter. Additionally, there are often multiple individuals in the vicinity
of Halburnt’s microphone, and it is not always clear which of them is speaking when not
within the camera angle.
{¶ 45} In the video, Halburnt’s cruiser arrives on the scene and parks facing
Chappell’s vehicle, bumper-to-bumper. After Halburnt exits his cruiser and passes in
front of it to approach Chappell, who steps outside of the camera angle, Halburnt, the
only officer wearing a microphone, can be heard asking Chappell for identification.
Chappell protests. Next, the video depicts O’Diam and Orndorff’s vehicle seemingly
pulling up on the driver’s side of Halburnt’s cruiser. Orndorff exits from the passenger
side of that cruiser and crosses in front of Halburnt’s cruiser; according to Orndorff’s
testimony, Orndorff was going to assist Halburnt (again outside of the camera angle).
{¶ 46} O’Diam then appears on screen and approaches the passenger side of
Chappell’s Malibu. O’Diam knocks on the window of the vehicle, opens the passenger
door, and signals the passenger to exit the vehicle. Once outside the car, the passenger
briefly places his hands on the roof of the car and is given an abbreviated pat-down.
O’Diam then places him in handcuffs while talking to him, although their conversation is
unclear. Thereafter, O’Diam gestures into the interior of the vehicle while a uniformed
-28-
officer approaches from between the undercover vehicle and Halburnt’s cruiser. As
O’Diam continues speaking to the passenger, the uniformed officer stands behind
O’Diam. O’Diam then gestures into the interior of the vehicle with an open right palm,
and the passenger appears to tilt his head slightly. O’Diam then passes the passenger
to the uniformed officer and another officer who approaches from the driver’s side of the
undercover vehicle.
{¶ 47} O’Diam and the uniformed officer who stood behind him then walk in front
of Halburnt’s cruiser. Halburnt can be seen placing a wallet and identification on the
hood of his cruiser and then passing in front of it, while O’Diam, Orndorff and the
uniformed officer gather at the front passenger side of the cruiser. While only the
uniformed officer is within the camera angle, a voice says, “He’s got a pistol,” and another
voice says, “Oh really?” A purported description of the pistol’s location is not audible.
Orndorff then approaches the driver’s side door of the Malibu, stands by the back door of
the vehicle, and seemingly looks down and inside the driver’s side window. Halburnt
then says, “This car’s parked illegally and this guy has a gun in the car.” The unidentified
uniformed officer who was with O’Diam as the passenger was removed then searches
the entire vehicle, but the video does not depict him opening or retrieving anything from
the driver’s door compartment.
{¶ 48} As noted above, the trial court determined that O’Diam was “in a lawful
place when he made the observation” and that “this was a lawful intrusion.” The trial
court then concluded, however, that there was simply no evidence of contraband or a
weapon being found prior to the search “except O’Diam’s statement” as related by
Orndorff. (Emphasis added.) In addressing the hearsay nature of Orndorff’s testimony,
-29-
the trial court noted that the hearsay evidence was not “set[ting] the scene,” but was
offered for the “truth of the matter.” The trial court determined that there was not
sufficient indicia of reliability and truthfulness in Orndorff’s recounting of O’Diam’s
statement about the presence of the firearm and that, accordingly, there was not
admissible evidence that the plain view doctrine applied. In other words, the trial court
concluded that Orndorff’s testimony did not provide sufficient objective support for
O’Diam’s declaration. Orndorff testified that O’Diam told him about the weapon “at some
point” and, as the trial court noted, when asked at what point O’Diam observed the gun,
Orndorff responded by stating, “I can’t speak to when Det. O’Diam saw it, but I’d assume
that he saw it as soon as he walked up to the vehicle because from my vantage point,
when I looked inside the vehicle, it was readily available and at hand in the driver
compartment * * * side door there.”
{¶ 49} We defer to the trial court’s assessment of witness credibility. Here, the
court examined Orndorff’s testimony about O’Diam’s hearsay statement and
characterized his testimony as equivocal and uncertain. Since O’Diam did not appear at
the suppression hearing to provide testimonial evidence regarding his observation of the
firearm, his statement was not subject to the trial court’s expertise and evaluation
regarding credibility. O’Diam’s observation also was not subject to cross-examination by
Chappell. As this Court has noted, “the opportunity for meaningful cross-examination
has been synonymous with indicia of reliability sufficient to satisfy the constitutional right
of confrontation.” (Citation omitted.) State v. Howard, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 19413,
2003-Ohio-3235, ¶ 32.
{¶ 50} Based on our review of the video, which is limited by scope and focus, we
-30-
conclude that it was subject to multiple interpretations, and we cannot say the trial court
erred in finding that the plain view exception to the warrant requirement was not
established. In other words, we cannot conclude that the video undermined the trial
court’s finding that there was a lack of reliable, admissible evidence to established that
the firearm was in O’Diam’s plain view. Some of the video was subject to more than one
interpretation. The court was not required to credit O’Diam’s declaration and Orndorff’s
speculative testimony about the visibility of the firearm from O’Diam’s vantage point. And
we will not elevate the video over testimonial evidence, which was lacking.
{¶ 51} Finally, although not dispositive, the trial court noted that “there was no
photograph of the interior of the vehicle” from which the court could evaluate whether
O’Diam could have seen the firearm in the driver’s side door’s pocket from his vantage
point on the passenger side. It was the State’s burden to establish the plain view
exception to the warrant requirement, and we conclude that the State was not entitled to
the benefit of its own inferences regarding the location and observation of the firearm. In
reality, the video does not provide us O’Diam’s viewpoint, and O’Diam’s credibility was
not tested.
{¶ 52} For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the trial court properly applied
the law regarding hearsay and the plain view exception to the facts herein by sustaining
Chappell’s motion to suppress. Accordingly, the State’s assignment of error is overruled.

Outcome: The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

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