I recently encountered a factual question in a case in the Kettering Municipal Court involving the reason that the officer stopped my client. Below is the case law which sets forth the two standards used to justify a traffic stop in Ohio. Visit www.KetteringDUI.com for information about the Kettering Municipal Court.
In State v. Moore, 2008-Ohio-2407, the 3rd District Court of Appeals reversed course on its prior decision in State v. Phillips, 2006-Ohio-6338and held that an officer had reasonable articulable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop when the Defendant’s vehicle drifted approximately 1/2 a car width over the fog line and off the road and then came back into his lane of travel. There are two different types of traffic stops, each requiring a different constitutional standard to be lawful. State v. Moeller (Oct. 23, 2000), 12th Dist. No. CA99-07-128.
A. Stops Based On Probable Cause
The first kind of constitutional traffic stop occurs when a police officer witnesses a violation of the traffic code and stops the motorist to issue a citation, a warning, or to effect an arrest. For this type of traffic stop to occur, the heightened standard of probable cause must underlie the stop. Bowling Green v. Godwin, 110 Ohio St.3d 58, 2006-Ohio-3563, at ¶ 13, quoting Gaddis ex rel. Gaddis v. Redford Twp. (E.D.Mich. 2002), 188 F.Supp.2d 762, 767. “Probable cause is determined by examining historical facts, i.e., the events leading up to a stop or search, `viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer.’” Godwin, 2006-Ohio-3563, at ¶ 14, quoting Ornelas v. United States (1996), 517 U.S. 690, 696. “Probable cause” is “a reasonable ground for belief of guilt.” State v. Moore, 90 Ohio St.3d 47, 49, 2002-Ohio-10. In this type of stop, the determination of probable cause “like all probable cause determinations, is fact-dependent and will turn on what the officer knew at the time he made the stop.” Godwin, 2006-Ohio-3563 at ¶ 14, quoting Dayton v. Erickson, 76 Ohio St.3d 3, 10, 1996-Ohio-431, quoting United States v. Ferguson (C.A.6, 1993), 8 F.3d 385, 391, (emphasis in original). Additionally, probable cause is provided when an officer had probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred or was occurring. Moeller, supra; see Erickson, 76 Ohio St.3d at 3, syllabus (“Where a police officer stops a vehicle based on probable cause that a traffic violation has occurred or was occurring, the stop is not unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution even if the officer had some ulterior motive for making the stop, such as a suspicion that the violator was engaging in more nefarious criminal activity. (United States v. Ferguson [C.A.6, 1993], 8 F.3d 385, applied and followed.)”); see, also, Whren v. United States (1996), 517 U.S. 806, 819 (“Here the District Court found that the officers had probable cause to believe that petitioners had violated the traffic code. That rendered the stop reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the evidence thereby discovered is admissible * * *.”).
B. Stops Based On a Reasonable Articulable Suspicion
The second kind of constitutional traffic stop is an investigatory stop. The Ohio Supreme Court has held that the question of whether an investigatory traffic stop is reasonable requires an “objective assessment of a police officer’s actions in light of the facts and circumstances then known to the officer.” Erickson, 76 Ohio St.3d at 6 (citation omitted). An investigatory stop is the motorized equivalent of a “Terry” stop, id.; see Terry v. Ohio(1968), 392 U.S. 1, and requires satisfaction of the “Terry” standard to be constitutionally acceptable: “articulable and reasonable suspicion” that an offense has been or is being committed. Prouse, 440 U.S. at 673. The lesser standard of reasonable articulable suspicion is defined as the ability of the officer “to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 20-21.