Saturday, May 02, 2015

Benign intent does not equal good faith

Sam S. Kepfield won in State v. Cox, No. 112,387 (Kan. App. April 10, 2015), affirming Judge Chambers' suppression order in a Reno County drug prosecution. On appeal, the state argued that Judge Chambers had improperly held that Ms. Cox had standing to challenge the search of her bag. The COA agreed with Judge Chambers:
Under these standards, Cox clearly has standing to challenge the search of the Buckle shopping bag. Cox and Simmons both confirmed that Cox knowingly left her bags in Simmons' car. Simmons positively identified which shopping bag belonged to Cox, and [the trooper] removed and searched only that bag. Even if, as the State argues, [the trooper] did not know for certain that the Buckle bag belonged to Cox before searching it, "the 'state of mind of the searcher regarding the possession or ownership of the item searched is irrelevant to the issue of standing.'" Cox clearly maintained a legitimate expectation of privacy in the bag she readily identified as her own. Thus, Cox had standing to contest the search of the bag.
The COA also rejected the state's argument that Ms. Cox had impliedly consented to search of her bag in these circumstances:
The State's argument that Cox implicitly consented to the search based on the circumstances fails for at least two reasons. First, Simmons specifically identified the Buckle bag that belonged to Cox. Thus, there was no need for [the trooper] to open the bag to look for the wood sander in order to verify ownership of the bag. Second, [the trooper] had the opportunity to ask Cox for her consent to search the bag when he spoke with her on the telephone, but he failed to do so. Under these circumstances, any consent implied by the situation is simply insufficient to substitute for the required express consent.

In summary, the record lacks any indication that Cox's consent to the search of her bag was "'unequivocal, specific, and freely given.'" Because it cannot fairly be said that Cox consented to the search of her Buckle bag, the district court did not err in suppressing the evidence found in the bag.
Finally, the COA rejected the state's claim that the good-faith exception should prevent suppression in this case (1) because it was not raised below and (2) because the trooper was not relying on a search warrant or a statute:
This is not a case where [the trooper] was relying in good faith on a search warrant later found to be invalid or on a statute later declared unconstitutional. Although [the trooper's] motivation for opening Cox's Buckle bag may have been benign, the fact remains that he violated Cox's constitutional rights by searching her bag without a warrant and without her consent. This case presents a situation where the exclusionary rule should be applied in order to deter [the trooper] and other law enforcement officers from making the same type of mistake in the future. Thus, the district court correctly applied the exclusionary rule to suppress the evidence found in the Buckle bag.
[Update: Ms. Cox filed a motion to publish this previously unpublished case, which was granted on July 8, 2015.]

[Further update: the state did not file a PR in this case and the mandate issued on October 29, 2015.]

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