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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > April 2015 > Proper Protocol (Search Warrants & State Databases): State of Ohio v. Myers

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Proper Protocol (Search Warrants & State Databases): State of Ohio v. Myers

Question:  Do you need a warrant to search a State database?
Quick Answer: A warrant is not needed if the statute or code provides a method of access for law enforcement and you comply with those requirements.
State of Ohio v. Myers, Twelfth Appellate District, Clinton County, Jan. 20, 2015
Facts: Detective Dennis Luken of the Greater Warren County Drug Task Force received a request from the Wilmington Police Department to investigate Officer Melissa Myers for prescription drug abuse. As part of Luken’s investigation, he ran a query with the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS), which is an electronic database that stores information on Schedule II – V prescribed drugs. Myers’ OARRS report contained her prescription information, the prescribing doctors, the pharmacies that filled the prescriptions, and the specific type of drugs she was given. Before running the OARRS report, Luken did not obtain a warrant or consent from Myers. Luken transcribed the information from the OARRS report and contacted Myers' doctors and pharmacies. Several of the doctors indicated that if they had known of the other prescriptions, they would not have prescribed to Myers. Myers was indicted on seven counts of deception to obtain a dangerous drug. She filed a motion to suppress, arguing that her information in OARRS was private and Luken violated her rights by not obtaining a warrant or her consent.
Importance: The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches of an individual when there is a constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy. So, while there is no privacy interest in the data that is collected from pharmacies, there is some interest in its distribution to you as law enforcement and to the public. For law enforcement, information can be gathered from OARRS if certain administrative protocols are followed. Once this happens, the individual’s right to privacy no longer exists. In this case, Myers did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy that her prescription records stored on OARRS would not be disclosed if Luken properly made the request under the statute—and because he did there was no unreasonable search and seizure.
Keep in mind: Disclosure of information in OARRS is governed by R.C. 4729.80. This statute allows law enforcement to obtain the information in OARRS if the person is the subject of an active drug abuse investigation being conducted by the individual’s employer. To obtain the information, law enforcement must submit a request form that includes the active case number and supervisor approval (OAC 4729-37-08(B)). Once the OARRS information is received, law enforcement may not disseminate the information unless allowed under statute.
More on Proper Protocol
But isn’t a probate judge … a judge? You are involved in an illegal gambling investigation and obtain a search warrant for a business. The warrant is approved and issued by a probate judge. The search is conducted and more than 30 video slot machines are seized. Is the warrant valid? The Court in Brown says no. Although a judge, a probate judge does not fall under the definition of who may issue a search warrant under Ohio law (R.C. 2931.01). In this case, the court allowed the evidence because the officers were acting in reasonable, good-faith reliance on the search warrant. But remember—with the issuance of this decision from the Ohio Supreme Court, all law enforcement have been put on notice that probate judges cannot issue search warrants. So in the future, the good-faith reliance argument will be harder to use if you obtain a warrant from a probate judge.  State of Ohio v. Brown, Ohio Supreme Court, Stark County, Feb. 18, 2015.
Saying Death Penalty ≠ Coercion: During a murder investigation you interview one of the main suspects. Prior to questioning, you give him Miranda and he waives his rights. The suspect initially denies involvement and provides an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the murder. You continue to talk and a second officer joins you. He mentions the death penalty and how a murder looks different than a “robbery gone bad.” The other officer also mentions that to avoid premeditated murder, the suspect would need to corroborate the version of facts stated by a second suspect—that this was a robbery gone wrong. The suspect then admitted to the murder, stating that the victim had pointed a pistol at him and he shot, fearing for his life. He also stated the shooting occurred during a robbery gone wrong. Was the confession coerced? The court in Western said no. Generally, a correct statement of the law and punishment does not rise to a level of coercion that would render a confession involuntary. False promises about lenient treatment in exchange for a Miranda waiver are improper interrogation tactics and may result in the confession being thrown out. For example, in State v. Petitjean, the officers’ statement that the defendant would probably get two years of probation if he worked with them was a misstatement of the law that undermined the suspect's ability to have capacity to consent to Miranda, making the confession involuntary. In this case, the court determined the detectives did nothing improper by referencing the death penalty or stating a characterization of the difference between murder and a “robbery gone bad.” The detectives also did not promise leniency, and told the suspect that he would be held accountable and the charges would not go away. State of Ohio v. Western, Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, Feb. 20, 2015.
“Armed and Dangerous” in a High Crime Area: While on patrol, you observe an individual walking down a street with no edge lines, sidewalks, curb, shoulder, or crosswalks. The individual crosses the street and you stop him for jaywalking. The stop occurred in a high-crime area, so immediately upon exiting your cruiser you conduct a pat-down of the individual. There was nothing suspicious about the individual’s appearance or actions. You ask if he has a weapon, to which he replies that he does. The individual is handcuffed, the weapons are taken, and he is placed in the cruiser. He is charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Was the pat-down proper? The court in Millerton said no. During a Terry stop, it is sometimes considered reasonable for the investigating officer to conduct a “protective search” by patting down the suspect to discover and remove weapons. However, an officer does not have authority to automatically conduct a search of a detainee. In order to conduct a pat-down search for weapons, an officer must have reason to believe that an individual is armed and dangerous. The mere presence in a high-crime or high-drug area, by itself, is insufficient to justify the stop and frisk of a person, especially when the officer indicates the person did nothing to make the officer worry that the offender would harm him. In this case, there was no reasonable, articulable suspicion to believe that James Millerton was armed and dangerous. State of Ohio v. Millerton, Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, Jan. 9, 2015