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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > July 2013 > Ashland v. McClain, Fifth District Court of Appeals

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Ashland v. McClain, Fifth District Court of Appeals

Question: Can you pat down and search someone you place in your cruiser for the sole purpose of convenience?

Quick answer: No.

Facts: Ashland Police Department responded to a call from Penny Brown, who indicated that her boyfriend, Everette McClain, was trying to get into her apartment. The officer defused the situation, and McClain left the area. About an hour later, Brown called back to say that McClain was trying to kick in one of her windows. When the officer returned, he found McClain walking away from Brown’s apartment. The officer wanted to talk to both Brown and McClain, so he put McClain in his police cruiser. Prior to doing so, he patted McClain down and removed two packs of cigarettes from McClain because he didn’t want McClain smoking in his cruiser.
Upon further investigation, the officer decided to arrest McClain for disorderly conduct. On the way to the jail, the officer looked in the cigarette packs and found marijuana.
Why this case is important: When you are putting someone in a cruiser for your convenience, you are not automatically entitled to pat them down. In this case, the officer testified that he was placing McClain in his cruiser so that he would be able to talk to both Brown and McClain, and the officer provided no reason to believe the McClain was armed. So, the officer’s search was improper.
Further, the officer seized two packs of cigarettes. But there was no evidence that the packs contained weapons or contraband. Instead, the officer seized the property because he didn’t want McClain to smoke in his cruiser. But that is not a valid reason to seize property.
Ultimately, because the officer arrested McClain for persistent disorderly conduct before he looked inside the packages, the court held that the evidence was admissible under the “inevitable discovery doctrine,” which is the legal equivalent of a “no harm, no foul” rule.
Keep in mind: This case highlights the risk you take that evidence will be suppressed anytime you deviate from the strict legal requirements. It’s not clear from the opinion why the state couldn’t have argued that the officer had a legitimate safety concern considering he was responding to a forcible-entry call, but that issue wasn’t reached. If you are putting someone in your cruiser solely for your convenience, there is no legitimate safety concern that justifies a pat-down. 
Visit the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals website to view the entire opinion.