Court Upholds Stop Based on Violation of Ohio's "Sidewalk Area" Law.

Section 4511.431 of the Ohio Revised Code requires drivers to stop before driving onto a "sidewalk area extending across the driveway." What is a "sidewalk area"? Joseph Stevenson learned the hard way when a police officer stopped him after observing him allegedly violate that law.

A police officer observed Stevenson leave the parking lot of an apartment complex. Unfortunately for him, two sidewalks ran perpendicularly to the area where the driveway entered the street. The sidewalk did not cross the driveway. Although he stopped before entering the street, Stevenson failed to stop before crossing the area where the sidewalk would normally cross the driveway opening. The officer subsequently stopped Stevenson and, after smelling marijuana, and after Stevenson admitted he had marijuana, searched the vehicle. The officer immediately discovered marijuana in the vehicle, and, after continuing his search, discovered a gun in the glove compartment. 

Unfortunately for Stevenson, he was a convicted felon, leading a federal grand jury to indict him for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He subsequently moved to suppress the marijuana and gun seized from his vehicle, and, after the District Court denied his motion, he entered a conditional guilty plea.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit issued a published opinion affirming the District Court's order upholding the search. It rejected Stevenson's argument that the officer lacked probable cause, holding that, even if he misapplied Ohio law, he reasonably relied on § 4511.431(A) to stop Stevenson.

In addition to challenging the stop, Stevenson argued the officer lacked probable cause to search his vehicle, or, in the alternative, the officer unreasonably extended the search that ultimately led him to discover the firearm. Not so, said the Court. The odor of marijuana, and Stevenson's admission, gave the officer probable cause to search the vehicle. Additionally, it held the officer also had probable cause to search the entire car for marijuana, including the glove compartment.

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