State v. Harrison

Decision Date22 December 2021
Docket Number2020-1117
Citation166 Ohio St.3d 479,187 N.E.3d 510
Parties The STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. HARRISON, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Eric C. Stewart, Logan County Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

Triplett McFall Wolfe Law, L.L.C., Tina M. McFall, and Marc S. Triplett, Bellefontaine, for appellant.

Donnelly, J., announcing the judgment of the court.

{¶ 1} This appeal asks us to decide whether it was unlawful to arrest appellant, Kandale Harrison, on an arrest warrant for which probable cause to arrest had been found but which had not been signed by an authorized court officer. We conclude that if (1) a court officer documents a finding of probable cause to believe that an identified criminal offense was committed by the defendant named in a sworn criminal complaint and accompanying affidavit and (2) an arrest warrant is attached to and expressly incorporates the complaint, then a valid arrest warrant has been issued under Crim.R. 4(A)(1) and (C)(1). The absence of a signature on the arrest warrant itself does not negate the warrant's validity. An arrest predicated on that warrant therefore does not violate either Crim.R. 4 or the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We accordingly affirm the court of appeals’ judgment, albeit for a different reason than the one expressed in its opinion, and we remand this cause to the court of common pleas for further proceedings.

I. FACTS

{¶ 2} On February 2, 2018, Brent Joseph, a detective with the Logan County Sheriff's Office assigned to the county's Joint Drug Task Force, supervised a controlled drug buy of cocaine by a confidential informant ("CI") from Harrison.

Detective Joseph listened to recorded telephone calls between Harrison and the CI regarding their arrangements to meet for the buy. The CI was also outfitted with a recording device that enabled Detective Joseph to listen to the February 2 transaction. After the buy, the CI provided the drug, which was confirmed to be cocaine, to Detective Joseph and stated that it was sold to him by Harrison.

{¶ 3} On February 13, Detective Joseph executed an affidavit labeled exhibit No. 1 that recited the foregoing facts. That same day, he appeared before a Logan County Common Pleas Court judge and executed an application for the installation and use of an electronic tracking device on the motor vehicle that Harrison had used during the February 2 controlled drug buy. See Crim.R. 41(A)(2). The judge granted the tracking application that day, and a tracking device was placed surreptitiously on Harrison's vehicle. The Logan County Joint Drug Task Force monitored the vehicle's movements in furtherance of their investigation.

{¶ 4} On February 27, Detective Joseph appeared before Karla Stevens, clerk of the Bellefontaine Municipal Court, to swear out a one-page complaint against Harrison for trafficking in cocaine in violation of R.C. 2925.03(A)(1) and 2925.03(C)(4)(a) in connection with the February 2 controlled drug buy. See Crim.R. 4(A)(1). A blank warrant authorizing the arrest of "the Defendant * * * named in the foregoing complaint" was attached to the complaint. The detective's two-page affidavit identified as exhibit No. 1 and dated February 13, reciting the facts of the controlled drug buy, was also attached to the complaint and blank arrest warrant.

{¶ 5} Stevens testified that after she signed the complaint sworn to by Detective Joseph, she delivered the complaint, a blank arrest warrant, and the affidavit marked exhibit No. 1 to Bellefontaine Municipal Court Judge Ann Beck. Judge Beck reviewed the paperwork and placed a stamp on the complaint's cover page that stated, "Hearing Held 2/27/2018" and "Probable Cause Found." She placed her initials, "AB," on the line designated "Judge." The arrest warrant attached to the complaint, however, was not signed or dated by anyone. Stevens acknowledged that it had been the court's practice not to sign or enter arrest warrants into databases unless and until the arrest warrant had been executed to avoid the risk of prematurely divulging information that could compromise an ongoing undercover criminal investigation. Detective Joseph subsequently picked up the paperwork reflecting the judge's finding of probable cause to arrest and the blank arrest warrant.

{¶ 6} On March 5, Detective Joseph saw Harrison's vehicle traveling from the Columbus area to Logan County through GPS tracking. After obtaining visual confirmation of Harrison driving the vehicle and trailing the vehicle for a period of time, Detective Joseph instructed Joe Layman, who was then a patrol deputy, to initiate a traffic stop of Harrison's vehicle so that Detective Joseph could execute the arrest warrant. As Deputy Layman approached the driver's side of Harrison's stopped vehicle, Detective Joseph approached the passenger's side. When Deputy Layman had Harrison step out of the vehicle, Detective Joseph joined them on the driver's side and informed Harrison that he was under arrest. Harrison was taken into custody without incident. A search of the vehicle incident to the arrest resulted in the seizure of incriminating evidence.

{¶ 7} On March 6, after learning of Harrison's March 5 arrest, a Bellefontaine Municipal Court deputy clerk formally filed and docketed Detective Joseph's sworn complaint with the exhibit No. 1 affidavit. The deputy clerk also signed and dated the attached arrest warrant.

{¶ 8} On April 10, Harrison was indicted on multiple felony counts in the Logan County Court of Common Pleas. Harrison moved to suppress the evidence seized in the search incident to arrest on the ground that the arrest warrant was unsigned at the time of his arrest. The trial court granted Harrison's motion to suppress on the basis that the unsigned arrest warrant was not a valid warrant. The trial court further rejected the state's reliance on the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, determining that the unsigned arrest warrant was so facially defective that the arresting officer could not reasonably have presumed it was valid.

{¶ 9} The court of appeals reversed the trial court's judgment after first determining that it did not need to decide whether the unsigned arrest warrant was valid. 2020-Ohio-3920, 2020 WL 4434614, ¶ 27. The court of appeals ruled that under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, it was objectively reasonable for Detective Joseph to believe that he had a valid arrest warrant. Id. at ¶ 32-33.

{¶ 10} We accepted jurisdiction over Harrison's discretionary appeal, 160 Ohio St.3d 1459, 2020-Ohio-5332, 157 N.E.3d 788, which raises two propositions of law for our review:

1. An arrest warrant that is not signed by a judge, magistrate, clerk of court, or officer of the court designated by the judge, does not comply with Criminal Rule 4.
2. A law enforcement officer's reliance on an arrest warrant that is not signed pursuant [to] Criminal Rule 4 does not qualify for the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.
II. ANALYSIS

{¶ 11} We address the propositions of law separately, being mindful that appellate review of a ruling on a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of fact and law. See State v. Burnside , 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, 797 N.E.2d 71, ¶ 8. A reviewing court must accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence. Id. , citing State v. Fanning , 1 Ohio St.3d 19, 20, 437 N.E.2d 583 (1982). Questions of law are reviewed de novo without deference to the lower court's legal conclusions. Id.

A. The Validity of the Unsigned Arrest Warrant

{¶ 12} The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution proscribes unreasonable searches and seizures, declaring that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." In accordance with that constitutional command, Crim.R. 4 sets forth the process and procedures generally applicable to the issuance of arrest warrants under Ohio law.

{¶ 13} Harrison contends that the unsigned arrest warrant did not comply with Crim.R. 4 and was therefore invalid. By implication, he argues that the trial court correctly determined that his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment and that the evidence seized incident to his arrest was properly suppressed by application of the exclusionary rule. Before considering the merits of these contentions, however, we must first address the state's alternative argument that no arrest warrant was required under the circumstances of this case.

1. The State's Alternative Argument for a Warrantless Arrest

{¶ 14} The state argues that even if the arrest warrant at issue here was invalid, Detective Joseph could have made a warrantless arrest pursuant to R.C. 2935.03 and 2935.04.1 A warrantless arrest that is based on probable cause and occurs in a public place does not violate the Fourth Amendment. State v. Brown , 115 Ohio St.3d 55, 2007-Ohio-4837, 873 N.E.2d 858, ¶ 66, citing United States v. Watson , 423 U.S. 411, 96 S.Ct. 820, 46 L.Ed.2d 598 (1976). Although the state has maintained consistently that there was probable cause to arrest Harrison, it conceded at oral argument that it did not argue in the lower courts that no arrest warrant was required and that Harrison could have been subject to a warrantless arrest under this line of authority.

{¶ 15} "In accordance with the general rule of appellate procedure this court will ordinarily refuse to consider questions which were not raised in the courts below." Drain v. Kosydar , 54 Ohio St.2d 49, 55, 374 N.E.2d 1253 (1978), fn. 4. See also Hospitality Motor Inns, Inc. v. Gillespie , 66 Ohio St.2d 206, 208, 421 N.E.2d 134 (1981), fn. 2. We decline to consider the state's alternative argument in this case for three reasons.

{¶ 16} First, the state's failure to raise the warrantless-arrest argument in the trial court deprived Harrison of the...

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