Township Police Can Conduct Traffic Stop Outside of Jurisdiction in Limited Circumstances

By: Cara M. Wright, Esq.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals recently held in State v. Dawley, — N.E. 3d —, 2016-Ohio-2904, that a municipal police officer properly conducted a traffic stop outside of his jurisdiction pursuant to the community caretaking / emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement.  In that case, a police officer observed a woman driving erratically on the interstate.  On multiple occasions the woman’s vehicle traveled outside of her marked lane, and accelerated and decelerated.  At one point, another motorist pulled up alongside the officer and expressed concern regarding the woman’s erratic driving.  Although the officer was not within his jurisdiction, he effectuated a traffic stop.  The police officer observed the woman having glassy, droopy eyes and that at one point she appeared to fall asleep.  The police officer took the woman’s keys to prevent her from driving away, and then waited at the scene for a state trooper, who conducted an investigation into the woman’s sobriety.  She was subsequently charged  with driving under the influence.

Prior to trial, the woman filed a motion to suppress seeking to exclude evidence gathered following the traffic stop.  She asserted that, since the police officer was outside of his jurisdiction, the stop was conducted without probable cause and in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  The trial court rejected that argument, and the appellate court affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress.

The appellate court found that the stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment, as the officer was permitted to conduct the stop under the “community-caretaking/ emergency aid” exception to the warrant requirement.  Under that exception, a law enforcement officer with objectively reasonable grounds to believe that there is an immediate need for his or her assistance to protect life or prevent serious injury may effect a community-caretaking / emergency aid stop.  The Court held that in this situation the police officer was duty-bound to provide emergency services to protect the public from the risk of harm posed by the intoxicated driver.  The Court held that the officer’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances, as he had personally observed the erratic and dangerous driving and the stop was necessary to protect other innocent motorists from the danger that the woman posed.

For questions or more information on the topic of this blog post, please contact:

Cara M. Wright – MRR Cleveland
Phone: 440.287.8321
Fax: 440.248.8861