Interesting case out of the 10th District yesterday that involve a nice litany of 4th Amendment arguments. Unfortunately for a young man named Stephen Hodge, the arguments fell flat. But, a good review of some basic criminal law is in order.
Here’s the sequence of events as testified to by 3 police officers at Mr. Hodge’s suppression hearing. Shots were fired outside a bar. Officer #1 here’s them and heads that way. An unidentified woman describes the shooter as a “black man wearing braids and a T-shirt with writing”. Officer #1 radios that info to other officers. First issue – is this a tip from an anonymous source and, if so, what levels of 4th Amendment intrusion does it afford police officers #2 and #3 who are about to enter the story?
Officer #2 (a buddy of mine and perhaps the funniest cop at CPD) heads over to the scene. He heard about the shooting but testified he didn’t hear a description of the shooter. That’s a little bit of a problem if he plans on stopping someone to investigate. Luckily for Officer #2, a Pontiac Grand Prix drove over a sidewalk and nearly struck him. So, he gets on his radio and puts out a description of the car. We know that Officer #2 could constitutionally stop the Grand Prix based upon that evidence alone. However, for some reason, he didn’t. He told other officers to stop it. That radio bulletin is most likely going to pass muster if another officer stops the Grand Prix just on Officer #2’s radio call.
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Enter Officer #3. He stops the Grand Prix despite not observing any indicia of criminal activity. Just on Officer #2’s radio description. The 10th District didn’t have any problems resolving the issue of the stop and seizure in favor of the police. There is some case law in Franklin County that holds if you are running or driving fast away from the scene of a shooting, you can be stopped and detained.
But, what Officer #3 does next is more troubling. He approached the Grand Prix with his gun drawn and orders the driver out. Officer #3 does a pat down search of Mr. Hodge, the driver, and puts him in a paddy wagon. A subsequent search-incident-to-arrest of Hodge’s Grand Prix resulted in Columbus Police officers finding a loaded H & K semiautomatic gun and ammo. That’s a felony. Actually, it’s two 4th degree felonies (CCW and Improper Handling).
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The parties stipulated that Mr. Hodge was, in fact, under arrest when the search was conducted. Mr. Hodge took issue with probable cause for the arrest in the first place (that would be on Officer #3 if he goofed). The trial court and court of appeals upheld Officer #3’s arrest of Mr. Hodge despite the fact Officer #3 relied on an anonymous tip given to Officer #1. The secret recipe on this anonymous tip is the fact Officer #1 talked to the tipster in person and the tipster allegedly saw the shooting. Officer #3 was allowed to rely upon Officer #2’s description of the vehicle and Officer #1’s description of the shooter when he eventually stopped the Grand Prix and observed that it was being driven by a black male with braided hair. Thus, Officers #4 and #5 could search Hodge’s vehicle with all this constitutional stuff stacking up in their favor.
Note: despite having a prior weapons charge that was knocked down to a misdemeanor, Mr. Hodge was given community control. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Hodge violates community control by picking up his 3rd gun charge. Next time, as he’s learned, when he shoots off his 9, he will just have to walk calmly away while changing shirts and putting on a wig. He’s getting a good lesson on the limits of the 4th amendment, searches, and probable cause.