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Eavesdropping Is Not Enough for a Warrantless Search

In many investigations, police obtain a warrant allowing them to eavesdrop on conversations between suspects. But what if police accidentally overhear a conversation regarding criminal activity? Can such a conversation lead to a warrantless search?

The accidentally overheard conversation about drugs

Officer Donald Garrison responded to a complaint of loud music at the Ashland, Ohio home of Christopher Mechling. The music was coming from a detached garage at the rear of the property. Garrison walked through the side yard to get to the garage, but before walking around the corner, he overheard a woman telling Mechling to get the “fat joint” out of his pocket so they could “smoke it.” Mechling responded that he did not have a joint. The woman said she saw that he had it and told him to take it out. At this point, Garrison came up to them and asked Mechling what was in his pocket. Mechling responded, “Nothing.” Garrison asked Mechling to show him what was in his pockets. Mechling obeyed, and Garrison could see marijuana in his hand. Mechling was charged with possession of marijuana.

Mechling argued that Garrison’s search was improper, and the court agreed. An officer needs reasonable suspicion to conduct a warrantless search. Here, Garrison’s hunch that Mechling possessed marijuana was based solely on accidentally overheard comments by Mechling’s companion. He also overheard Mechling emphatically deny having a joint.

Had Garrison heard Mechling admit to possession of marijuana, this case might have been decided differently. The court further held that Garrison’s “request” that Mechling empty his pockets was in reality an order. Without evidence to support reasonable suspicion, such an order is improper. The court ordered that the evidence be suppressed.

If you are arrested for a drug-related offense, contact the Ohio criminal defense attorneys at Yavitch & Palmer Co. LPA. We are experienced in contesting illegal police searches and arrests and skillfully represent individuals at suppression hearings and trials.

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