Mistake of Law is No Excuse, Unless You Are the Police - DUI News - 4/22/2016

The Fifth District held that an officer's mistaken belief that stopping prior to a stop sign was a violation was an objectively reasonable belief, and therefore the resulting traffic stop was based on sufficient reasonable suspicion.

State v. Hill, 2016 Ohio 1510 (5th Dist.).


April 11, 2016

Hill stopped his vehicle approximately 5 foot before the marked line at a stop sign.  An officer initiated a traffic stop under the mistaken belief that Hill had violated a local stop sign ordinance.  As a result of the traffic stop, Hill was cited for an OVI, a stop sign violation, seat belt violation, and possession of marijuana.

Hill filed a motion to suppress claiming the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop.  The Trial Court concluded that Hill had not violated the stop sign ordinance or any other traffic laws; however, it denied the motion to suppress by reasoning that the officer's misunderstanding of the stop sign ordinance was reasonable.

On appeal, the Fifth District adopted a rule that an "officer can still make a valid stop if the officer's mistaken interpretation of the law is reasonable," citing the Supreme Court's Decision in Heien v. North Carolina.  It noted that the Ninth District has held that a similar stop sign ordinance was unambiguous; however, it concluded that this officer's mistaken interpretation of the ordinance was objectively reasonable.  It noted that the officer's interpretation, "may have involved general safety concerns about the particular location . . ."  As a result of finding the officer's mistaken interpretation of the statute to be reasonable, it denied Hill's appeal.

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