An Ohio appeals court has reversed a Franklin County judge’s decision to dismiss drunken driving charges against a man who was found slumped over his car’s steering wheel in the parking lot of a dog day care center.
In an opinion issued in late June, the 10th District Court of Appeals said the ruling issued by Municipal Court Judge James E. Green wrongfully granted a motion to suppress evidence in the case against Scott E. Cochran, who faced drunken driving charges.
The charges stemmed from an encounter that Cochran had with Columbus police in the parking lot of The City Dog, a Downtown dog day care. Police had received a call from an employee of the day care, saying she was concerned about Cochran, who had come in to pick up his dog.
Police arrived and found Cochran slumped over his steering wheel in the parking lot, with the keys in the ignition and the dog in the passenger seat, court documents show. The officers began talking to Cochran, who said he was taking a nap and wanted to sit there while he waited for someone to pick him up.
One of the officers noticed that Cochran had glassy eyes and slurred speech, the documents say. He also noticed a bottle of liquor on the floor of the car, but Cochran kicked it under his seat. When the officer asked how much he had had to drink, Cochran said, “not that much” and that he was going to the hospital later that day to get a “detox treatment.”
At one point, Cochran himself said, “I’m not good to drive,” but refused to get out of the vehicle or submit to a field sobriety test, the court filing says. The officers removed him from the vehicle and arrested him, finding that his blood-alcohol level was .361 percent, more than four times the limit at which a person is considered to be driving drunk.
At issue was whether the officers were justified in arresting Cochran and conducting a search without a warrant. Cochran asked the trial court to exclude the evidence of his intoxication and the court agreed, saying the officers lacked the required “reasonable and articulable suspicion” to detain or question Cochran, lacked justification for pulling him from his vehicle, and lacked justification for requesting him to take a field sobriety test and breath-alcohol test.
Judge Betsy Luper Schuster wrote the appellate opinion, which said that police were, in fact, justified on all fronts. The 3-0 opinion stated the police did not need reasonable suspicion of criminal activity when they were “exercising community caretaking functions.” They only needed, she said, reasonable grounds to believe there was a need to protect the community.
The 10th District reversed the trial court ruling to suppress evidence and vacated the decision to dismiss the case, sending it back to the lower court.
Cochran’s legal team said it will file an appeal.