Trooper’s stop of vehicle for speeding using pace method was invalid

In State v. Jarosz, the Eleventh District Court of Appeals of Ohio upheld the trial court's ruling suppressing evidence in a case involving speeding and drunk-driving charges. The appellate court agreed that the evidence did not adequately prove that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant's vehicle for speeding, and therefore the stop was invalid, where the officer failed to keep a uniform distance between his cruiser and the defendant's vehicle while estimating the defendant's speed.

Background of the case

At approximately 11:30 p.m. on November 12, 2102, the defendant was travelling north on State Route 44 in Rootstown Township, Portage County, Ohio. A trooper of the Ohio State Highway Patrol was on routine patrol driving his cruiser behind the defendant. Using the pace method, the state trooper visually estimated that the defendant's car was travelling 48 mph in a zone with a 40 mph speed limit and stopped the defendant for speeding. The state trooper detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from the defendant's breath, and observed that the defendant's eyes were glassy. After performing field sobriety tests the defendant was arrested. The result of defendant's breath test at the station was .088. The defendant was charged with speeding and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Proceedings in the trial court

The defendant brought the suppression hearing on the ground that the state trooper did not have reasonable suspicion to make the initial stop. At the hearing, the state trooper testified that he visually estimated that the defendant's car was travelling 52 mph in a zone with a 45 mph speed limit using the pace method, but he decided to continue following the car because the speed was fluctuating and the state trooper was unable to get a steady pace. The state trooper paced the defendant's car again after both vehicles crossed into a 40 mph zone. This time the state trooper activated his rear radar, which determined the speed of his cruiser. The state trooper testified that he was able to keep the same distance between the cruiser and the defendant's vehicle for a period of 12 seconds, at which time he determined the speed of the defendant's vehicle to be 48 mph.

Despite this testimony, the trial court granted the suppression motion, finding that the state trooper did not have legal grounds to stop the defendant because the video recording of the stop showed that the state trooper did not keep a uniform distance from the defendant's vehicle while estimating the defendant's speed. The state appealed the ruling.

The Eleventh District Court's ruling

The Eleventh District Court conducted its own review of the video recording on appeal. The court commented that the recording was extremely fast-paced, poorly lit, shaky, and recorded from less-than-an-ideal vantage point, and that it was "far from a model of clarity." However, said the appeals court, the evidence depicted in the video could be interpreted as both supporting and contradicting the state trooper's testimony that he obtained a steady pace for a period of 12 seconds. The appellate court held that it must defer to the trial court in its role as the trier of fact, and could not reinterpret the evidence in a manner inconsistent with the trial court's ruling.

Drunk-driving charges and other traffic offenses are serious offenses with serious consequences; in order to make sure that your rights are protected, you need to find an experienced attorney experienced in defending these matters.