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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > August 2013 > Proper Protocol: State of Ohio v. Schneller

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Proper Protocol: State of Ohio v. Schneller

Question: Can you patrol in an unmarked police vehicle to enforce traffic laws?

Quick Answer: No.

State of Ohio v. Schneller, Fifth District, Stark County, July 8, 2013
Facts: A captain parked in the grass about five to ten feet off the side of the road. The engine was running, but the headlights were out. The car was all black and only indicated the word “POLICE” in silver letters on the front quarter panel of the cruiser, 3 inches in height and stretching 30 inches across the bottom of the panel. The captain stopped Andrew Schneller for OVI and driving on the wrong side of the road. Schneller described the car as “blacked-out,” and police inventory described the car as “unmarked.” The vehicle had no other police logos and had civilian license plates. The court determined the officer violated ORC 4549.13 and found his testimony incompetent.
Importance: ORC 4549.13 requires officers on duty for the main purpose of enforcing misdemeanor motor vehicle or traffic laws to be in a vehicle that is marked in a distinctive manner or color and equipped with at least one flashing, oscillating, or rotating colored light mounted on top of the vehicle. If the car is not marked, the officer is unable to testify against the defendant at trial, and if they do, the testimony is automatically deemed inadmissible.
Keep in Mind: You know your car has to be marked to catch traffic violators when your assigned duty is to enforce traffic laws. But what happens if you are in an unmarked car on another assignment and witness a traffic violation? The outcome in that case may be different because your main purpose for patrolling is not to enforce traffic laws.
Other Cases to Consider
  • What is he trying to say? Writing clear affidavits: You are not trying to win a literary prize for your affidavit, but remember, it is important to be clear and concise. In State of Ohio v. Fetter case, the offender complained about inaccurate information supplied by officers on the affidavit for the BAC test because the date of manufacture was after the date of the calibration test. The court determined that the officer interpreted the language “within one year of its manufacture, to-wit” to refer to a date one year after the manufacture date, not the actual date of manufacture. Luckily, and even though the affidavit wording was awkward, the check test forms attached to the affidavit showed the correct date. (State of Ohio v. Fetter, Fifth Appellate District, Licking County, July 29, 2013)
  • “Bum Rushing” does not lead to provoked flight: Sometimes you use strategic tactics to contain a large mass of people or deal with a persistent issue. Did you know that if you create a situation where a reasonable person would fear danger and flee to seek shelter or evade the danger, you may not be able to perform a Terry stop? When the police in United States v. Jeter conducted a “bum rush” on a large group of individuals loitering in a nearly abandoned shopping center, the court determined the strategic maneuver was not designed to provoke flight, but instead to contain them. In fact, it contained everyone except Dominic Jeter, who decided to run. Using strategic tactics makes for effective policing, but make sure you use tactics that will not interfere with how and why you can perform searches or seizures of individuals. (United States of America v. Jeter, Sixth Circuit, Northern District of Ohio, Toledo, July 10, 2013)