Friday, February 01, 2013

Hunch does not equal reasonable suspicion

Michelle A. Davis won in State v. Martinez, No. 99,595 (Kan. Feb. 1, 2013), obtaining reversal of a Johnson County possession conviction.  Law enforcement officers had seized Mr. Martinez suspecting that he knew the whereabouts of a person they were trying to serve with a warrant.  The parties agreed that the officers had conducted an investigatory stop, so the KSC focused on whether that type of stop was justified.  A majority of the COA panel had held that officers had reasonable suspicion to believe the target of the warrant was in Mr. Martinez' car.  The KSC indicated that the circumstances presented added up to nothing more than a hunch:
Officers may conduct such stops only when there is reasonable suspicion the person "is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime." K.S.A. 22-2402(1). Here there was no reasonable basis to believe Martinez was committing the crime of aiding a felon or obstructing legal process by helping Aguirre escape.
There is no indication, for example, that the officers witnessed a contemporaneous sighting of both suspects together at the apartment complex on this occasion. The officers never testified that they saw Aguirre in the car prior to the stop, and there was no evidence the officers believed Aguirre might be concealed in the car. Additionally, there was no reasonable basis upon which officers could believe Martinez was in possession of cocaine.
Rather than relying on Finley, which can be distinguished because it involved exigent circumstances concerning a just-reported violent crime at or near the scene, we believe this case is more analogous to another Court of Appeals decision, State v. Young, No. 102,497 (Kan. App. 2010) (unpublished opinion), in which the panel held officers were not permitted to stop a woman whom they suspected of carrying a fugitive around in a car trunk. In that case, the court characterized the officer's suspicion that the fugitive was in the trunk as "purely speculative."
Reduced to its essence, the district court here found experienced officers with a hunch rises to reasonable suspicion. And although the officers' hunch in this case was correct—that Martinez was traveling with Aguirre—a hunch has never been the benchmark of a proper police seizure.
Because the officers lacked reasonable suspicision, the KSC held that the distridct court should have suppressed the evidence found during the investigatory detention.

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