12/27/2011Ohio: Yanking Motorist Out of Car Is Not a Welfare Check
Ohio Court of Appeals rules that cops cannot rip drivers from their cars to make sure they are okay.
Cops in Ohio may not rip a motorist out of his vehicle to "check on his welfare." The state court of appeals handed down a decision earlier this month in a case involving a man parked on the side of the road in a quiet Columbus residential neighborhood who was "helped" out of his car with physical force.
Al E. Forrest sat in the driver's seat of a 2003 Ford Explorer with another man in the passenger seat as two police officers came up on either side of the vehicle. According to Officer Kevin George's testimony, he just wanted to see if the Explorer driver was okay. The officers had no suspicion of any criminal activity prior to approaching the Explorer. When George poked his head into the driver's window, Forrest looked surprised to see a cop staring at him through the window. George said this was a sign of "nervousness." When George saw money in Forrest's left hand, he ordered the man out of the SUV. This was the beginning of the legal problem for the Columbus officer.
"We note initially that the police needed no suspicion of activity, legal or illegal, in order to walk up to or approach the Ford Explorer," Judge G. Gary Tyack wrote for the appeals court. "What a person willingly displays in public is not subject to Fourth Amendment protection. However, Officer George went far beyond approaching the vehicle."
Forrest did not immediately get out of the Explorer. Instead, he rolled up the window and removed the keys from the ignition. Unsatisfied with this response, George pulled open the car door and yanked Forrest out. George had no warrant and had still not observed any illegal activity. Because of this, a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge suppressed evidence obtained from arresting Forrest. The state appealed. The three-judge appellate panel found the prosecution's claim that exceptions to the Fourth Amendment applied to be entirely unpersuasive.
"The state argues probable cause to arrest and then search incident to arrest are present, but both fail because they are premised on Forrest's wrongfully refusing to obey the order to step out of the vehicle," Judge Tyack wrote. "The officer, however, had no basis to order Forrest out of the vehicle because he lacked reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity when Officer George reached across Forrest's body to grab his hand and pull him out of the vehicle. Since there was no lawful arrest, the search and seizure cannot be justified as a search incident to a lawful arrest."
With the suppression motion upheld, the state has no case against Forrest. A copy of the decision is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.