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July 14, 2006

The Ohio Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday in State v. Farris could have some major long-term ramifications for search and seizure law.  The facts of the case are simple:  Farris was stopped by a police officer who, smelling marijuana in the car, took Farris back to the police cruiser and, without Mirandizing him, elicited his admission that some of his friends in the car had been smoking the evil weed, and that he had a pipe in a bag in the trunk.  The officer then read Farris his Miranda rights, got him to make the same admissions, and searched the car and the trunk, seizing the pipe.

What happens after that isn't quite as simple.  The Court had to answer several questions:

Can the police use the post-Miranda statements?  Obviously, they can't use the first statements, because the Miranda rights weren't given.  In keeping with previous US Supreme Court decisions, the Court held that the second set of statements -- the ones given after the defendant was Mirandized, couldn't be used either, because there wasn't a sufficient break between the two.

Could the evidence the police officer found be used, despite the Miranda violation?  Normally, yes; the US Supreme Court has held that a search based on an interrogation done in violation of Miranda is admissible.  Why wouldn't it be a "fruit of the poisonous tree"?  Because a violation of Miranda isn't a constitutional violation.  Miranda isn't required by the Constitution, it's simply a rule the Court has adopted to effectuate the Self-Incrimination Clause, much like the exclusionary rule was adopted to effectuate the Fourth Amendment.

But this is where it gets interesting.  Although the Federal courts have consistently held that a violation of Miranda doesn't prohibit using the physical evidence found as a result of the violation, the Court in Farris finds that using the physical evidence is prohibited under the Ohio constitution's self-incrimination clause.

Does probable cause to search the car give probable cause to search the trunk?  Nope.  The smell of marijuana gave the officer probable cause to search the car, but that doesn't extend to the trunk.

The big news is the second point.  As I mentioned a month ago, after the recent US Supreme Court case holding that the exclusionary rule would no longer be applied in "no-knock" cases, it's not hard to envision the possibility of the rule being abolished altogether.  That would leave the Ohio constitution as the only basis for exclusion.  I'll talk about the legal arguments on that next week, but in the meantime, if you're doing criminal defense work, make sure you start asserting state constitutional grounds, as well as Federal ones, in your motions.

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