Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A good Fourth Amendment primer

A zone of victory case in State v. Hill, No. 89,572 (Kan. March 17, 2006). Finding harmless error, the KSC affirmed despite a Fourth Amendment violation. But there is a lot of good Fourth Amendment analysis in this case, both on what constitutes an arrest, evidence sufficient for reasonable suspicion, and when statements given after Miranda warnings are tainted by a Fourth Amendment violation. The KSC held for Mr. Hill on all of these points, but then found the error harmless. You should print out this case and keep it with you as a Fourth Amendment primer. (Seriously).

As an aside, this is terrible harmless error analysis. The question was whether Mr. Hill was involved in the manufacture at a residence. The statements suppressed included admissions that he had stayed there and physical evidence suppressed included a key to the residence found on his person. But the KSC said that because two co-defendants testified that Mr. Hill was involved in the manufacture, the district court (it was a bench trial) did not have to rely on his statements or the key. But the question should not be: did the fact finder have to rely on the tainted evidence; it should be: is it possible the fact finder relied on the tainted evidence. Unless the appellate court can say beyond a reasonable doubt that the evidence could not have contributed to the verdict, it must reverse. In this case, although other statements link Mr. Hill to the residence, if his incriminating statements and the key are taken out of the state’s case, those statements are essentially snitch/accomplice testimony, which is necessarily much less credible.

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