Court Refuses To Apply Exclusionary Rule In Disciplinary Case

Ronald Slough was employed as a deputy sheriff by Lucas County, Ohio Sheriff’s Department. In July 2004, Slough was subject to an internal investigation concerning possible domestic problems. On July 15, 2004, the Department removed Slough’s weapons and ordnance from his home for “safekeeping.” Several months later, the weapons were test fired, and Slough was indicted on two counts of unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance. Slough filed a motion to suppress the weapons which were seized by the Department without a warrant. On June 8, 2005, Slough’s motion was granted and the criminal charges were dismissed.

Independently of the criminal charges, the Department terminated Slough for possessing “certain weapons and/or ordnance that was illegal for him to possess which resulted in felony indictments being filed against him.” Slough appealed his termination to the Ohio State Personnel Board of Review. In the appeal proceedings, Slough sought to suppress evidence of the weapons on the grounds that the exclusionary rule should apply. The Board rejected Slough’s argument, and upheld his termination.

The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed the Board’s decision upholding Slough’s termination. The Court found that it was inappropriate to apply the exclusionary rule in Slough’s case.

The Court recited the general purposes of the exclusionary rule: “When evidence is obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the judiciary-developed exclusionary rule usually precludes its use in criminal proceedings against the victim of the illegal search and seizure. The Supreme Court has stressed that the prime purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter future unlawful police conduct and thereby effectuate the guarantee of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The Court noted that in Ohio, the exclusionary rule usually was not applied in civil cases except in the rare circumstance where the civil cases were “quasi-criminal” in nature. The Court concluded that Slough’s case was an inappropriate one to apply the rule: “In order to apply the exclusionary rule, and prohibit the Board from considering the weapons taken from Slough’s home when making its determination, the potential deterring effect of the exclusion must outweigh the substantial social costs exacted by the exclusionary rule. In this case, Slough voluntarily relinquished the key to his weapon cabinets prior to leaving his residence. Thereafter, it was determined that the weapons should be removed from the residence for safekeeping, not as part of any criminal investigation. Thus, the need for deterrence is not as apparent in this case as in others, because the Department was not attempting to use its authority to circumvent Slough’s rights in order to gain incriminating evidence to use against him. Rather, the intention was merely to protect.”

Slough v. Lucas County Sheriff, 174 Ohio App.3d 388 (2008).

This article appears in the June 2008 issue