State v. Chavez, 102618 OHCA2, 27840

Docket Nº27840
Opinion JudgeWELBAUM, P.J.
Party NameSTATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee v. JULIO C. CHAVEZ Defendant-Appellant
AttorneyMATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by MICHAEL P. ALLEN, Atty., Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee. ADELINA E. HAMILTON, Atty., Attorney for Defendant-Appellant.
Judge PanelTUCKER, J., concurs. DONOVAN, J., dissenting:
Case DateOctober 26, 2018
CourtCourt of Appeals of Ohio

2018-Ohio-4351

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee

v.

JULIO C. CHAVEZ Defendant-Appellant

No. 27840

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

October 26, 2018

Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Trial Court No. 2017-CR-1734/2

MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by MICHAEL P. ALLEN, Atty., Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee.

ADELINA E. HAMILTON, Atty., Attorney for Defendant-Appellant.

OPINION

WELBAUM, P.J.

{¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Julio C. Chavez, appeals from his conviction in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas after he pled no contest to possession of marijuana. In support of his appeal, Chavez contends the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress the drug evidence at issue. For the reasons outlined below, the judgment of the trial court will be affirmed.

Facts and Course of Proceedings

{¶ 2} On July 11, 2017, Chavez was indicted for possession of marijuana in an amount equal to or exceeding 200 grams but less than 1, 000 grams, in violation of R.C. 2925.11(A). Following his indictment, Chavez filed a motion to suppress, arguing that an improper search and seizure was conducted in the motel room where the marijuana was found. On September 1, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on Chavez's motion to suppress. At the suppression hearing, the State presented testimony from Sergeant Jennifer Chiles and Officer Timothy Christian of the Vandalia Police Department. The officers testified as follows.

{¶ 3} On May 24, 2017, Officer Christian was monitoring the Super 8 Motel located at 550 East National Road in Vandalia, Montgomery County, Ohio. As part of his regular duties, Christian performed random registration checks on the vehicles parked in the motel parking lot by running the vehicles' license plate information. In doing so, Christian discovered the owner of a green Honda parked in the parking lot, Omar Cardenas, had a warrant for his arrest out of Martinsville, Indiana. The warrant was for possessing marijuana and included a color photograph of Cardenas. The warrant also included Cardenas's weight, age, and general physical description. The description indicated that Cardenas was a Hispanic male with dark hair.

{¶ 4} After learning of the arrest warrant, Officer Christian made contact with Sergeant Chiles in order to determine whether Cardenas could be picked up on the Indiana warrant given that the warrant had a limited 300-mile pick-up radius. Sergeant Chiles determined Martinsville, Indiana, was 140 miles from Vandalia. As a result, Chiles ordered dispatch to contact the Martinsville Sheriffs Office. After contacting the Martinsville Sheriffs Office, Chiles was informed by dispatch that Cardenas would be extradited to Martinsville if the officers were able to effectuate his arrest.

{¶ 5} After speaking with dispatch, Sergeant Chiles and Officer Christian inquired about Cardenas with the front desk clerk of the Super 8 Motel. The front desk clerk advised the officers that no one with Cardenas's name was registered to a room. However, the clerk indicated that Cardenas's green Honda was registered to Room 131, and that the name registered to Room 131 was Fernandez Ramirez. Sergeant Chiles testified that, in her 20 years of police experience, people commonly use aliases when registering for motel rooms. Accordingly, Chiles testified that, in her mind, she thought Cardenas could be in Room 131 despite the room being registered under a different name. The officers also believed Cardenas was in Room 131 since Cardenas's green Honda was parked directly in front of the door to Room 131.

{¶ 6} As Sergeant Chiles and Officer Christian approached the door to Room 131, they could see that the lights were on by looking through a four-inch opening in the otherwise drawn curtains. Sergeant Chiles testified that, as she stood by the ground-level window to Room 131, she could smell the odor of marijuana emanating from the room. Since Cardenas's warrant was for possessing marijuana, Chiles testified that the odor of marijuana also led her to believe that Cardenas was in the room.

{¶ 7} Believing Cardenas was in Room 131, Officer Christian began to knock on the motel room door and announce their presence as Vandalia police officers. Shortly thereafter, Sergeant Chiles testified she could see "shadows of movements, like someone was moving around in the room" through the opening in the curtains. Trans. (Sept. 1, 2017), p. 60-61. While standing close to the window at an angle, Sergeant Chiles saw a Hispanic male approach the door and try to look out the peephole, which the officers had blocked for officer safety. Officer Christian testified that Chiles told him the male was making suspicious movements and crouching down.

{¶ 8} Continuing, Sergeant Chiles testified that the male in Room 131 eventually looked through the opening in the curtains and made eye contact with her. Upon making eye contact, Chiles testified that she told the male, later identified as Fernando Ramirez, to "[o]pen the door." Id. at 62. In response, Chiles testified Ramirez put his hands up and said: "Don't shoot. Don't shoot me." Id. Ramirez then put one hand behind his back while the other hand remained in the air. When Ramirez put his hand behind his back, Sergeant Chiles testified she became concerned that he had a weapon. As a result, Chiles drew her firearm at a "low ready position," meaning that the tip of the gun was pointed at the ground and that Chiles was holding the butt of the gun near her waist. Id. at 63.

{¶ 9} After 20 to 30 minutes of knocking on the door and ordering Ramirez to come out of the room, Ramirez opened the door and exited the room. Once Ramirez was outside the room, the officers ordered Ramirez to get on the ground. Ramirez complied with the officers' order, and Officer Christian handcuffed him. Believing that Ramirez was Omar Cardenas, Sergeant Chiles asked Ramirez: "Omar, is there anyone else in the room?" Id. at 65. Ramirez then told Chiles "I'm not Omar." Id. At that point, Officer Christian advised Ramirez that he was being detained until his identity could be confirmed.

{¶ 10} While Officer Christian detained Ramirez, Sergeant Chiles observed another Hispanic male sitting on the bed inside Room 131 who resembled Cardenas. Chiles ordered the second male, later identified as Chavez, the appellant in this case, to get out of the room and on the ground. Chavez complied with Chiles's order and was subsequently handcuffed. Believing Chavez was Cardenas, Sergeant Chiles asked Chavez: "Omar, is there anyone else in the room?" Trans. (Sept. 1, 2017), p. 66. Like Ramirez, Chavez stated he was not Cardenas. Officer Christian then told Chavez he was also being detained until they confirmed his identity. Sergeant Chiles recalled either Ramirez or Chavez advising her that Cardenas was his brother. It was later confirmed that Chavez was in fact Cardenas's brother.

{¶ 11} Sergeant Chiles testified that, when she asked Chavez if anyone was else in the room, Chavez "flung his head to the side towards the room, like nodding towards the room and said something to the effect of look for yourself or go see for yourself." Id. at 67. Chiles testified that she took this as permission to enter the motel room. Chiles then entered the room to look for Cardenas and to conduct a protective sweep for officer safety since she did not know how many people were in the room. Chiles testified that she only searched in the areas where she could not see and where a person could be hiding, such as in the space between the two beds and in the bathroom, as the bathroom door was shut.

{¶ 12} After clearing the area between the beds, Sergeant Chiles attempted to open the bathroom door, but met resistance. Because she was the lone officer in the room and did not know whether the resistance was caused by someone pushing on the door, Chiles backed out of the room for her safety and called for an additional officer to assist with clearing the bathroom. Thereafter, Officers Christian and Sommer opened the bathroom door while Chiles remained with Ramirez and Chavez. Upon opening the bathroom door, the...

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