Is reaching for the glovebox during a traffic stop suspicious? Is it reason to search a car without a warrant? An Ohio appeals court said no last month.
"Such movement, standing alone, does not give rise to a reasonable belief that appellant was armed and dangerous." – Judge Stephen Yarbrough
Naturally, it's a little more complicated than that. Here's what happened, according to court documents:
Around 3:00 AM on March 25, 2012, Toledo motorist Sherrie A. Powell nearly hit an unmarked police car filled with four detectives dressed in riot gear. Another patrol car in the area turned on its lights and siren and pulled over Powell. While this was happening, the detectives maneuvered alongside and noticed that she appeared to be reaching for the glovebox.
The detectives then joined the traffic stop, exiting their vehicle with guns drawn. They cleared the car, which was filled with four women, and moved them around to the back of the vehicle. The officers searched the car, found a gun in the glovebox, and arrested Powell, even though another passenger told officers that Powell had the required permit to carry a concealed weapon.
She was charged with failing to inform police that she was carrying a concealed weapon and using a weapon while intoxicated (a detective said Powell had glassy eyes and slurred speech). She was convicted by a lower court on the first charge and acquitted on the second.
The appeals court found that while the traffic stop was permissible – Powell admitted she was speeding and four detectives witnessed her almost drive into them – reaching for the glovebox by itself did not constitute grounds for a search.
"Such movement, standing alone, does not give rise to a reasonable belief that appellant was armed and dangerous," Judge Stephen Yarbrough wrote in the decision.
Powell's attorney didn't move to suppress the evidence during the original trial, and the higher court considered this a crucial error in granting the appeal.
The court also noted that none of the police officers testified that they feared for their safety at the time of the search, as the car had been emptied and all of the passengers were standing at the back.
Powell's attorney didn't move to suppress the evidence during the original trial, and the higher court considered this a crucial error in granting the appeal. The prosecution argued that detectives inevitably would have learned of her gun permit after running her license.
Still, the court found it was "speculation" that she would have told them it was in the glovebox, and that they then would have had "no constitutionally valid reason to search the vehicle."
Both Powell and her friends and the detectives were coming from bars, though for vastly different reasons. The women had been hosting a party at a Toledo-area club and were heading home after a night of revelry. The police had been at Big Shots Bar in Toledo, where they had been called to execute a search warrant, and were still wearing gas masks.
An attorney listed for Powell did not return a message left by Autoblog.