Mahoning Co. judge must decide if turning key in lock is an unreasonable search

Local News

An attorney for a Youngstown murder defendant says putting the key in the lock violated his defendant's right to privacy

Stephon Hopkins

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A Mahoning County judge is trying to decide if a detective who inserted a key into a doorknob violated a defendant’s Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches.

Judge Anthony D’Apolito heard arguments Tuesday in a suppression hearing for Stephon Hopkins, 22.

Hopkins is charged with aggravated murder for the 2018 shooting death of Christopher Jackson. He’s also charged with wounding another man in that shooting on Youngstown’s East Side.

Also charged with the death of Jackson is 24-year-old Brian Donlow.

At issue is a key that investigators found in the backseat of the car that Jackson was found in. Police did two separate tests through the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation that found Hopkins’ DNA on the key.

Lead investigator Detective Sgt. Michael Lambert already served one search warrant at the Detroit Avenue home of Hopkins on December 7. He returned March 19 to see if the key fit any of the doors in his house.

Lambert testified Tuesday that he first knocked on the front door. When he received no answer, he tried the key in that door and it did not work.

He then went to the back door and again knocked and again failed to receive an answer. He tried the key in the deadbolt and it did not work. He tried the key in the knob and the lock turned, Lambert said, but he was unsure if the door had been locked in the first place because he did not try to turn the knob before he turned the key.

Lambert said he then locked the door then tried the key again, and it worked.

Lambert said he never entered the home. Although he had a warrant on December 7, he did not have a warrant when he returned with the key.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney J. Gerald Ingram, Lambert said he walked across the yard when he went to the home with the key.

Ingram is asking that any testimony about the key fitting the lock not be allowed at trial because Lambert testing out the lock without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment rights of Hopkins. He said Hopkins has a right to privacy in his home and that includes unreasonable intrusions in the areas close to his home, such as his yard.

Assistant Prosecutors Dawn Cantalamessa and Michael Yaccovone both told the judge that the lock has no expectation of privacy and there are several cases in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court Of Appeals that back them up. They said they will be submitting those cases to the judge through supplemental briefs.

Ingram, however, did say that a lock does have an expectation of privacy because locks have a simple function — to keep people on the other side of the door.

“We have locks to keep people out,” Ingram said. “It is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Judge D’Apolito said he will review the supplemental briefs before making a decision.

Donlow and Hopkins are also charged with the June 19, 2018, shooting death of Brandon Wylie, 30, at the Plaza View apartment complex in Youngstown.

Donlow also had a suppression hearing in the Wylie case on Tuesday.

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