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Inevitable Discovery

The police get a tip that a person in a "light-colored vehicle" is going to be making a drug sale that night at a particular strip mall.  The police stake out the mall, and at 1:30 in the morning observe a gold-colored van pull into the parking lot, drive slowly through it, and exit.  The police follow the van, running a computer check on the plates.  They pull the van over before the check comes back, and wind up arresting the driver for a susended license.  In State v. Porter, the 8th District affirms the trial court's granting of a motion to suppress, finding that at the time the police stopped the vehicle, they didn't have a basis for doing so:  even though there were several factors militating toward the validity of the stop -- the late night, the high-crime area -- they hadn't seen the driver doing anything wrong, and hadn't had any corroboration for the anonymous tip.

One more thing:  shortly after the police stopped the van, the computer check came back indicating the van was stolen.  The defendant was indicted for receiving stolen property.  That's the case that wound up getting tossed on the suppression motion.

There's a concept in search and seizure law, which apparently the prosecutor in the case was unaware of, called inevitable discovery:  even if the search and seizure was unconstitutional, if the evidence would have been legally discovered anyway, it's admissible.  (The late Judge Ann Kilbane had an excellent summary of the doctrine in her dissenting opinion in this case.)  This seems like a classic case of that:  had the police waited only a few more minutes until the computer check came back, they would have had a perfectly valid reason for stopping the vehicle.

In fact, in State v. Seals, an unreported case out of Lake County in 1999, the court upheld a search on virtually identical facts:  the police officer initiated the computer check, then stopped the vehicle.  A few minutes later, the check confirmed that the vehicle had been stolen.  (Talk about being "on all fours":  the case even involved a car being driven through a parking lot at night.)  The appellate court disagreed with the trial court that the facts justified the initial stop, but held that the police would have learned that the vehicle was stolen anyway, which would then have justified the stop, and allowed the evidence in under the "inevitable discovery" doctrine.

This isn't to suggest that our Court of Appeals was wrong in failing to raise the issue of inevitable discovery; by not raising it in the trial court, the prosecution had waived the argument.  In Seals, by comparison, the prosecution had argued in the trial court both that the stop and search was reasonable, and that if it weren't the inevitable discovery doctrine would apply to validate it nonetheless.

The new site has given me the ability to do some new things, one of which I did here.  As I explained a while back, the Ohio Supreme Court site contains most of the court of appeals decisions since 2001, and most of the Supreme Court decisions since 1992.  That's what I link to when I cite a decision.  The problem is what to do about decisions that aren't there.  If they're reported, that's fine, but if they're not, like the Seals case wasn't, that's a pain; if I give you the Lexis site, it's a lot of trouble to find it if you've got Westlaw, and vice versa.

So what I'm doing is converting the files to PDF format and uploading them to my web site, and then linking to that in the posts.  Just going the extra mile...

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