The Second District Court of Appeals ruled that police have the right to peek into bathroom stalls if they determine that the occupant isn’t using the area for its intended purpose.
The Second District Court of Appeals upheld a decision made by the Clark County Court of Common Pleas to reject the defendant’s motion to suppress a bathroom stall search, claiming it was unlawful. After the lower court denied the motion to suppress, the defendant pleaded no-contest to aggravated possession of drugs, a felony of the fifth degree. The defendant then appealed to the Second District, which affirmed the lower court’s denial of the motion.
The case originated in a Springfield Wal-Mart store. A Wal-Mart employee claimed to have seen the defendant walking around the store as if he was intoxicated or impaired by something. The employee called the police and told them that the person in question had entered the Wal-Mart bathroom.
Upon entering the bathroom, the officer could see that the person in question was in the large stall for disabled persons. Through the cracks, the officer could tell that the individual had his pants on and observed what looked like the defendant placing objects on the toilet paper dispenser.
At this point, the officer was under the assumption that the occupant was not using the stall for its intended purpose, so he entered the adjacent stall, stood on the toilet, and peeked over the partition. When he did, he saw the defendant with a spoon, yellow powder, and a syringe. The officer then entered the stall and arrested the man.
Under most circumstances, it would be unlawful for police to peek into a bathroom stall. However, the court ruled that the officer had probable cause, not requiring a warrant, to carry out a search.
Police cannot, for example, enter into a public restroom and peek into a stall because “they have not been expressly or implied to be invited.” While the officer in this case did enter a bathroom and peek over the stall without invitation, he did so only after receiving the report from the concerned employee and after he observed the defendant through the cracks “failing to use the space for its intended purpose.” These factors, combined with the officer’s experience that bathroom stalls are often used for illicit drug use, gave him probable cause to conduct the search.
Read more on the State v. Trainer (2015-Ohio-2792) decision.