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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > February 2014 > Search and Seizure of Property and Vehicles (Probable Cause to Stop): State of Ohio v. Jarosz

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Search and Seizure of Property and Vehicles (Probable Cause to Stop): State of Ohio v. Jarosz

Question: Is an officer’s “pacing” of a vehicle sufficient to create reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle for speeding?
Quick Answer: Yes, but only if the officer can show that he maintained a constant distance between vehicles for a sufficient amount of time.

State of Ohio v. Jarosz, Eleventh Appellate District, Portage County, Dec. 31, 2013
Facts: Based on a “visual estimation,” an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper assessed that the car driving in front of him was exceeding the 45-mph speed limit. He paced the car travelling at 52 mph, but since the car’s speed fluctuated, he never got a steady pace. The trooper continued the pursuit. After crossing into a 40-mph zone, the trooper began to pace the vehicle a second time and activated his radar. The trooper made sure to keep the same distance between his cruiser and the car for 12 seconds and determined the car’s speed to be 48 mph. The trooper testified that he was positive he had a good speed pace on the car and logged a speed of 48 mph in a 40-mph zone. The trooper stopped the car for speeding, and the driver was later arrested on an OVI charge. The driver argued that the evidence from the stop be should be suppressed on the grounds that because the trooper did not maintain an equal distance from the vehicle while pacing him, he did not have probable cause to stop him for speeding.

Importance: “Pacing” a vehicle to measure its speed can provide probable cause, but only when the facts and circumstances indicate that the pacing was done in a manner that indicates accuracy. In this case, the court determined the trooper did not use the proper technique to pace. The dashboard video did not show that the trooper maintained an equal distance from the vehicle while pacing him, and therefore speed could not be accurately established. As such, the trooper lacked probable cause to stop the vehicle, and the subsequent evidence of intoxication was suppressed.
Keep in Mind: Improperly using pacing techniques can lead to evidence being suppressed and criminals being freed. If your agency is interested in using the pacing method (or any other method of testing for traffic violations), make sure officers have proper training and protocols to follow. In addition, this case highlights the importance of reviewing video evidence that might contradict your testimony before taking the stand.
More on Search and Seizure of Property and Vehicles:
Sounds like probable cause to me. A car drives past with a louder-than-normal exhaust system that you believe is illegal. You stop the car and ask the driver to step out. When he does, you smell burnt marijuana on him. Based on the smell, you conduct a probable cause search of the driver and find a “wooden dugout” used to smoke marijuana in his shirt pocket. You charge the driver with two traffic violations: OVI and Defective Exhaust System. Were the stop and subsequent search permissible? Yes, according to the court in Rau. Even though the exhaust system was not objectively loud, the officer’s observance of the louder-than-normal exhaust system provided reasonable suspicion of criminal activity as outlined in Ohio Revised Code 4513.22. Once the stop was made, the smell justified the search. State of Ohio v. Rau, Third Appellate District, Paulding County, Dec. 23, 2013
In case of emergency… You execute an arrest warrant on a barely dressed suspect after she opens the back door of her home. Hoping to get her some clothes, you knock on the inside door to the main part of the house, where the suspect says her 4-year-old daughter is sleeping. Another resident opens the door, and the smell of meth is obvious to your experienced nose. Knowing the risk of explosion, you immediately begin looking for the 4-year-old. You quickly determine that the smell is coming from a bedroom and find the child asleep in the next room. When you open the door to the bedroom with the suspected meth, you see a pair of freshly “burped” one-pot meth labs. Does the meth get suppressed? The court in Campbell said no, because the risk of injury characteristic of meth labs creates an “exigent circumstance.” An exigent circumstance exists when an officer knows that someone is in an emergency situation with a high risk of danger. In those circumstances, you can search without a warrant, but only until the emergency goes away. State of Ohio v. Campbell, Eleventh Appellate District, Ashtabula County, Dec. 31, 2013