Saturday, September 21, 2013

Illegal traffic stop requires suppression of statements

Michael J. Bartee won in State v. Jefferson, No. 98,742 (Kan. Sept. 6, 2013) obtaining a new trial in a Wyandotte County felony murder prosecution.  The KSC held that officer had illegally stopped Mr. Jefferson's vehicle and that resulting statements were fruit of the poisonous tree.  First, the KSC held that, while officer did know some facts about Mr. Jefferson, the officers did not have probable cause to believe that the car had evidence of a homicide:
Thus, although Jefferson was a suspect in Jackson's shooting at the time the detectives seized his vehicle, there is simply no evidence in the record linking the shooting to Jefferson's vehicle. In fact, the evidence contradicts such a link. Detectives had recovered the van used in the shooting and had found no weapons in that vehicle. Moreover, the shooting occurred more than a month before detectives seized Jefferson's vehicle, making any potential link between Jefferson's vehicle and the shooting even more tenuous. Additionally, the detectives acted inconsistently with their later claim of probable cause when they went to Jefferson's apartment—not to search his vehicle—but only to talk with Jefferson. And finally, the detectives allowed Jefferson's car to remain unattended, with keys in the ignition and the engine running, while they chased Jefferson. The officers simply did not act in a manner indicating a fair probability that the vehicle contained contraband or evidence of the homicide.
Because Mr. Jefferson was illegally detained, the state had to prove that the statements obtained were sufficiently attenuated from the illegal conduct.  The KSC held that
the detectives exploited their illegal seizure of Jefferson's car to obtain his incriminating statements. And the State has failed to establish under the totality of the circumstances that Jefferson's statements are sufficiently attenuated from the preceding illegal seizure.
The KSC did hold that sufficient evidence (including the illegally obtained evidence) supported the convictions and therefore remanded for a new trial without the incriminating statements.  Justice Beier wrote a concurring opinion noting that there is a colorable argument that such a sufficiency analysis should not include evidence obtained in violation of the constitution:
there is at least a colorable argument that [Lockhart v. Nelson, 488 U.S. 33, 41 (1988)] should be distinguished when exclusion arises from constitutional error. There is also a colorable argument that Kansas does or should do more to ensure that a constitutional right is not cheapened by allowing retrial when the evidence admitted in the original trial minus the portion that should have been excluded would not have proved the State's case. Virginia has adopted such an approach.
So practitioners that are presenting suppression and sufficiency issues should consider arguing regarding the application of Lockhart in cases involving constitutional violations.

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