Recent Ohio Supreme Court Decision Broadens Ohioans’ Rights from Warrantless Police Searches


Major Win For Ohioans, Ohio Supreme Court Rules On Protection of Privacy

On June 28, 2022 the Ohio Supreme Court released their majority opinion with an unanimous 7-0 decision, on the case of Ohio v. Burroughs. Click here to read the decision. The case involved police officers arriving at the defendant’s household to execute an arrest warrant. Soon after, Police Officers forcefully entered the household when they believed the destruction of evidence was underway. Once the defendant was arrested and detained, the police conducted a protective sweep of the premises. During this sweep an officer found a book bag and opened it to search for weapons, instead a bag of marijuana was recovered.

At trial, the prosecution was able to overcome the defense’s motion to suppress and introduce the recovered contents of the book bag into the record. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the opening of the backpack was a violation of her 4th amendment right of protection against warrantless searches. The lower courts agreed with the prosecutor’s argument that no warrant was needed under the constitution because of the single-purpose-container exception.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the use of the single use exception in this scenario. The single use exception has been sparingly applied where the container itself speaks for content’s inside. Meaning a police officer just by looking at the object, could conclude what’s inside of it. Some examples of this exception hypothetically could be: a gun holster, a pack of cigarettes, a tuba case. No warrants are needed in cases involving these types of items because there is no privacy to protect due to the fact the object already showed itself by the container. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the book bag that was searched, could have contained anything.

Privacy Of Book Bag Contents

This was displayed by the fact that from officer’s plain view of the book bag, he could not have reasonably determined that anything inside of the bag was illegal. So by this fact, the book bag did not meet the criteria of the single-purpose container exception. Even furthering the defense’s case the court reasoned that, a book bag, does not let someone know what is inside of a book bag just because it’s a book bag. Therefore the defendant was entitled to the protection of privacy of the contents of the book bag which could have only been overcome by a warrant.

The Ohio Supreme Court not deciding with The State is a major win for Ohioans. If the Court would have accepted their argument that the “totality of the circumstances” must be taken into account when an officer is trying to determine what’s in the bag. Then the rule, a warrant is required to search a seized item, is no longer The Rule.

Publisher’s Note:

I want to thank our new law clerk at HCM&M, Connor Zamilski, for his assistance in writing this post! Well done, Connor!

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