ATHENS — The appeal of a Columbus man who pleaded no contest to first degree felony drug charges last fall in Meigs County was presented for oral arguments before a three judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals on Thursday morning in Athens County.
Inielsis G. Isaac, 42, pleaded no contest to charges of possession of drugs and trafficking in drugs during a November 2017 court hearing in Meigs County Common Pleas Court after a large uantity of heroin was located during a traffic stop.
Isaac was sentenced to a mandatory 11 years in prison as a “Major Drug Offender” based on the quantity of heroin located in the vehicle he was driving.
According to statements made in court by Prosecutor James K. Stanley at the change of plea hearing last fall, Isaac was in possession of 2,000 grams of heroin when stopped by a Ravenswood Police Officer after crossing the bridge in to Ohio. The stop occurred along Route 33 in Meigs County. The heroin would have a street value of $480,000 to $800,000 Stanley stated, citing information form the Major Crimes Task Force.
Isaac’s attorney in the initial case, Terry Sherman, had argued through a motion to suppress prior to the plea that the search of Isaac’s vehicle which located the alleged drugs was invalid for a number of reasons. The stop was reportedly initiated for failure to properly display a license plate and going left of center.
First, the officer from the Ravenswood Police Department initiated the traffic stop outside of his jurisdiction along Route 33 in Ohio just across the bridge. The stop was also a “prolonged” stop according to documents provided by Sherman. Consent for the search was also a matter of question by Sherman as English is not Isaac’s native language as made evident by a translator at the defense table at the plea hearing.
By pleading “no contest,” rather than guilty, Isaac’s right to appeal was preserved.
Isaac subsequently appealed the conviction based on his denied motion to suppress regarding the legality of the traffic stop which led to the discovery of the drugs in his vehicle.
At the oral arguments on Thursday, Isaac’s attorney Keith Yeazel focused on the traffic stop and the legality of a Ravenswood, West Virginia, officer conducting a traffic stop in Meigs County, Ohio.
Yeazel stated that the officer did not turn on his overhead lights to initiate the traffic stop until 26 after crossing under the “Welcome to Ohio” sign on the U.S. Route 33 bridge connecting Ravenswood, West Virginia to Meigs County, Ohio.
Yeazel argued that the pursuit by the officer and the stop took place in Ohio where a Ravenswood Officer would not have jurisdiction.
Focusing on where exactly the West Virginia/Ohio boundary is, Yeazel said that the “low water mark” is the boundary established by court rulings, something Judge William Harsha questioned as the “low water mark” can change.
While the officer turned to follow Isaac’s vehicle while in West Virginia, Yeazel stated that the pursuit to stop Isaac did not begin until they had crossed into Ohio.
Meigs County Prosecutor James K. Stanley argued that Boggess initiated the pursuit and subsequent stop of Isaac when he pulled out behind Isaac’s vehicle in Ravenswood regardless of where his lights were turned on.
Stanley stated that the lights were activated once oncoming traffic had passed to allow for the officer to go around a vehicle which was between his cruiser and Isaac’s vehicle. Isaac and Boggess came to a stop soon after crossing the bridge, where there was a spot wide enough to safely conduct the stop.
Stanley stated, in response to a question from Harsha, that there is no marker on the bridge to indicate where the low water mark is, and that the “Welcome to Ohio” sign is not necessarily at the spot where the border is. (A reference used by Stanley was that the Ohio sign coming off the Bridge of Honor in Pomeroy is on land on the Ohio side, not on the bridge at all).
Questioning in the reason for the stop, Yeazel said that an equipment violation with a license plate from another state does not allow for the officer to make the traffic stop.
Officer Andrew Boggess also stated in testimony at the trial court level that he stopped the vehicle for traveling left of center on the ramp approaching the Ravenswood Bridge.
Boggess, stated Stanley, is trained as an interdiction officer, knowing ques to look for regarding potential suspicious activity. In testimony of Boggess referenced by Stanley, the officer stated that Isaac had two of the indicators — hands gripping the wheel at 10 and 2 and the look of an adrenaline rush — when he went by the officer. The obstructed license plate also gave reason for Boggess to follow the vehicle, at which time he saw the left of center violation.
Yeazel briefly mentioned another part of the appeal which focuses on the language barrier (Isaac reportedly speaks mostly Spanish and had a translator in court). Yeazel’s argument was that Isaac did not understand the officer and therefore could not have given consent for a search of the vehicle.
Addressing the language barrier, Stanley stated that Isaac was able to obey previous instructions from Officer Boggess, such as handing his registration, license and other paperwork to the officer and exiting the vehicle. Stanley also stated that while held in the jail Isaac was able to communicate in English with others, including dispatchers.
Stanley stated that the officer believed consent had been given for a search of the vehicle as stated in his testimony at the motion to suppress hearing.
A decision will be issued by the 4th District Court of Appeals at a later date.
Isaac is currently serving his 11 year prison sentences at Pickaway Correctional Institution.