“I did not want to hear this case.”
These are the words that were uttered coldly from the mouth of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer at the start of oral arguments at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Ohio Judicial Center-home of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The case-the State of Ohio v. Oliver-is based on a series of events that took place in Cleveland more than three years ago.
On March 22, 2003, the Cleveland Police Department SWAT unit approached the premises of Oliver, who was being sought by the police for criminal activity. The officers knocked and announced their intent to enter the home as warnings to the occupants of the home. Multiple warnings were given before police entry as a standard means of operation, with several seconds between each warning, as stated in the case memorandum.
Eventually, the police entered the home, arrested Oliver and the other occupants of the home, along with large amounts of marijuana and several weapons. Oliver was later indicted for drug and weapon possession.
The case is based primarily on whether Oliver and his houseguests were given a sufficient amount of time to answer the door before police entry, which if sufficient time was not given, would be the fault of the police department. In a review of the case in late 2004, the State saw fault on behalf of the Cleveland police and the evidence was suppressed.
During the oral argument, much of the debate of the case revolved around how the Ohio Supreme Court would base their decision on the case at hand, which led Moyer to wonder aloud if a certain ruling should be made according to the high standards of the Court. Much of the in-court dialogue prefaced the infamous Hudson v. Michigan case, which is similar to Ohio v. Oliver.
According to the Duke University Law School Web site, “[Booker] Hudson was charged and convicted in state court with possession of cocaine and a firearm after Detroit police officers entered and searched Hudson’s home… Hudson argued that the evidence against him was seized in violation of the ‘knock and announce’ rule of the Fourth Amendment, which requires the police to knock, announce their presence, and wait 20-30 seconds before executing a search warrant.”
Eventually, the evidence that seemingly assured Hudson’s guilt was suppressed because it was found that the officers waited as little as three seconds before entering his home.
T. Allen Regas, a Cleveland attorney representing the State of Ohio, stumbled through much legal jargon pertaining to the step-by-step analysis of the police procedures. Regas’ explanation of the police’s time failures in the department’s “knock and announce” tactics, resulting in suppression of the evidence found in Oliver’s home, drew the ire of the justices.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell abruptly interrupted Regas, saying, “You’re still telling us about the facts-we want to know about the law.”
Encouraged by Regas’ verbal stumbling between the cases and interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, Oliver’s legal representative, Chris Pagan, used roughly half of his allotted 15 minutes to argue on Oliver’s behalf.
Pagan drew the comparison between the miscues made by both police departments in Ohio v. Oliver and Hudson v. Michigan, and stated how the lack of proper execution is comparable to such authorities not reading an apprehended subject his or her Miranda rights.
Soon after, Regas closed his argument, stating that there was no violation in the privacy of Oliver’s home, but if anything, there was a violation in the privacy of the person.
Outside of the courtroom, both lawyers shed light on their own opinions and tactics in their oral arguments.
Pagan, a native of Middletown, said that it was “an unusual case,” but that an attorney must prepare for every eventuality. He stated that he “came to defend what happened in Cuyahoga County,” but that the panel of justices present on Wednesday seemed only to care if they should have a ruling that was broader than the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Hudson case.
Pagan himself said that he was more prepared to talk about the violation of the police’s Fourth Amendment than the Hudson-Michigan case.
On the other hand, Regas mentioned that there was no remedy for the case, if the judges were to make a court decision.
“The search was based upon probable cause,” Regas said.
In fact, Regas admitted that he wanted all of the evidence that was taken out of the house to be used in court (“It helps my case”). Pagan then mentioned that if the Court applied the Hudson case to the Oliver case, the drugs and weapons found in the home would have been used as case evidence.
“[Oliver] wasn’t convicted-the evidence was suppressed,” said Pagan, despite the fact that Oliver’s possession of 20,000 grams of marijuana was worth a minimum of 10 years in prison, according to Ohio legislation.
The idea that Oliver could have been guilty and escaped punishment for his crimes could lead to questions about the case and the justices’ rulings on it-State v. Oliver also could lead to questions about how an attorney could represent someone who Pagan himself said “isn’t the best man in the world.”
In the end, Pagan suggested that the State v. Oliver is bigger than one man or a courtroom, regardless of the Court’s ruling.
“Your home is your castle-the police can’t just come in your home,” Pagan said.
“We’re advancing the security of private homes.”
(Note: All information stated was acquired during a first-hand experience in an actual Ohio Supreme Court pre-hearing in Columbus, Ohio.)