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7th District upholds YSU police arrest off campus

Appellate Notebook

Published: October 29, 2012

On April 25, 2011, members of the Youngstown State University police department arrested Jonathan Littlejohn for possession of marijuana. Littlejohn was one of five people who were in a parked car at 1 a.m. sitting behind an apartment complex located at 815 Ohio Ave. in Youngstown.

That address is located off the YSU campus.

The arrest took place under authority given to both the campus and Youngstown city police departments under several Ohio statutes, and also under an agreement between the two departments which was written under statutory authority.

The case is State v. Littlejohn, 2012-Ohio-4554, decided by the Seventh District Ohio Court of Appeals.

This appeal brought up a conflict of laws question, which the court eventually resolved in favor of the state.

At issue were R.C. 2935.03 and its potential conflict with R.C. 3345.041.

The former statute basically outlines the power of a university police officer to make arrests for crimes committed in his or her presence on campus; the latter gives a campus police department the right to enter into an mutual assistance agreement with the police department in the municipality in which that the school is located.

Defense counsel had filed a motion to dismiss the case based upon the fact that the university officer made the arrest outside the police department’s territorial jurisdiction, in violation of R.C. 2935.03(A).

In this case, the city of Youngstown’s police department had entered into a mutual aid agreement with the YSU police force. That agreement is specifically allowed under R.C. 3345.041.

The question to the appellate court was whether or not the two statutes conflict and, if so, which statute should prevail?

That agreement, signed on May 13, 2010, stated that, with some pragmatic exceptions, members of each of the two departments will exceptions will “render assistance to the police officers (of the other department) whenever such assistance is requested by officers… or a requesting officer’s dispatcher.”

The agreement also goes on to specifically highlight the geographic area in which this arrest took place as an area of cooperation in which the university officer could make arrests on sight, rather than waiting for a call for help.

Those two clauses are within “paragraph one” of the agreement, for purposes of this case.

Past that, the agreement goes on to say that any officer of either police force can arrest any suspect in either one’s jurisdiction if the arrest involves witnessing the alleged crime (paraphrasing; this part of the agreement was “paragraph two”).

The defense interpreted this agreement as meaning that the only time that a university police officer could assist a city officer is when the university officer was specifically called to for help. In addition, the defendant argued that enforcing the agreement would be per se violative of R.C. 2935.03(A), which set up the conflicts question.

The lower court agreed, and dismissed the case based upon the statute with the larger scope (2935.03) taking precedence over the statute which is smaller in scope.

In this case, the university officers were a part of a general request from the city to help out in the neighborhood in which the arrest took place, because of a rash of automobile break-ins that had been taking place there.

As such, this arrest took place within an area of the agreement between the two departments that specified that a university officer could arrest on sight, as laid out in paragraph one, above.

The lower court’s holding followed the argument that the more general statute should supersede the more specific one, and came to the opposite conclusion of the trial court and the defense.

The appellate court made the same analysis and came to the opposite conclusion, starting by stating that the only issue was whether or not the two statutes were in conflict, and, if so, which should prevail, and that, if possible, they should be “construed so that effect is given to both….”

The court said that R.C. 3345.041 was enacted in 1987 in response to an arrest by Kent State University police. The law post-dated the pertinent language in the general statute, and therefore carved out an exception to the general statute.

Therefore, said the appellate court, both laws could be in effect at the same time, and under the same circumstances.

Since there is no inherent conflict within these two laws, the court concluded, they are both enforceable equally. The case was therefore reversed and remanded to the lower court, which will take it from there.