Law Enforcement Bulletin

Sign up for newsletters and other news
Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > March 2014 > Search and Seizure (Reasonable Suspicion): State of Ohio v. Robinson

Law Enforcement Bulletin RSS feeds

Search and Seizure (Reasonable Suspicion): State of Ohio v. Robinson

Question: When you stop someone based on an unreliable tip, can you use evidence from the stop to get a search warrant for the driver’s house?
Quick Answer: No. You can only stop a car if you have reasonable suspicion, and reasonable suspicion can’t be based on an unreliable tip. If the stop is no good, you can’t use evidence found during the stop to get a warrant. Anything the warrant turns up is “fruit of the poisonous tree.” 
State v. Robinson, Ninth Appellate District, Summit County, Feb. 19, 2014

Facts: Akron police got a call that a recently arrested individual had some information about suspected drug dealer, Rayshawn Robinson. The detective spoke to the informant, who told him where Robinson lived and that he owned red and black SUVs. Officers visited the address and saw the SUVs. The detective then had the informant set up a drug buy at the local Taco Bell. Officers monitoring Robinson’s residence watched as the black SUV left and headed downtown, but instead of turning left toward the Taco Bell, the SUV turned right. Officers could not determine whether the occupants matched the description given by the informant. When the SUV returned home, officers arrested the occupants and searched the vehicle, finding a BB gun, a scale, and $600 cash. During the search, the passenger told officers that she had 4.5 grams of crack in her bra. Based on the informant’s tip, the evidence found in the SUV, and the passenger’s admission, the detective obtained a search warrant for the residence, where he found 38 grams of crack, weapons, ammunition, and a large amount of cash. Robinson argued that the evidence seized at the residence should be thrown out because the warrant was not supported by probable cause. The court agreed.
Importance: Law enforcement can’t use evidence resulting from methods found in violation of the Constitution. When a warrant is based on a stop, and the stop was based on a tip, the tip has to be reliable or all of the evidence — from both the stop and the warrant — is tainted. Tips are less reliable when they come from criminals, arrestees, or those who haven’t provided tips in the past. The informant in this case was all three. Because the tip in this case wasn’t reliable, there was no reasonable suspicion to stop and search the SUV. Without the evidence from the SUV stop, there was no probable cause to issue a warrant. Without a valid warrant, the search of the apartment was no good, and the evidence seized could not be admitted at trial.
Keep in Mind: When someone with no track record of informing offers a tip, it’s best to do everything you can to corroborate the tip before acting on it. If you can’t corroborate an unreliable tip, performing a warrantless stop is unconstitutional.
More on Search and Seizure: Reasonable Suspicion
(Un)obstructed Justice: While on patrol, you see a vehicle with a license plate partially obstructed by a tinted plate cover and a trailer hitch. You follow the vehicle for several blocks in an attempt to read the plate. When you are unsuccessful, you stop the vehicle. You walk to the back of the vehicle to read the license plate while your partner questions the driver. You end up arresting the driver for driving his mother’s car with a suspended license. Based on policy, the car must be towed. To prepare for towing, you inventory the vehicle and find a bag containing crack cocaine in the passenger side map pocket. At trial, the driver argues that the rear license plate was not obstructed and that, therefore, you had no reason to stop him and ask for his driver’s license. He shows the judge photos. Is the seizure of the crack still good? No, according to the Jones court. The court found Jones’ testimony and the pictures of the plate proved that the plate was not obstructed and, as a result, that officers did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. If you don’t have evidence to support your reasonable suspicion, the evidence might get tossed, and the suspect might walk. State v. Jones, Eighth Appellate District, Cuyahoga County, Feb. 13, 2014