Saturday, January 09, 2016

Search incident to arrest nor inevitable discovery justified search of wallet left on car

Shannon Crane won in State v. Reed, No. 113,576 (Kan. App. Dec. 18, 2015), affirming Judge Rose's suppression order in a Reno County drug prosecution. Judge Rose found the following facts:
Defendant was handcuffed and at the rear of his vehicle when his wallet was first searched. The search of the wallet was not justified by safety reasons or as an effort to safeguard evidence of the offense of driving while suspended. The officers were in possession of defendant's driver's license, the only evidence relevant to the crime for which defendant was being arrested. There was nothing protruding from the wallet suggesting any type of safety concern. Officer Carey testified it is police department policy to search a person's effects before placing them in a patrol car. The court assumes this policy is for safety reasons. Here though, defendant was separated from his wallet. Defendant apparently was not asked what he would like done with his wallet, if anything. If officers were concerned about security of defendant's property there was a passenger who arguably could have assumed custody of the wallet. There was no indication the passenger was a minor child or under the influence of drugs or otherwise incapacitated.

The search was not authorized as incident to arrest. The inevitable discovery doctrine does not authorize the admission of the evidence because the wallet was not lawfully seized.
The COA agreed that the search incident arrest doctrine did not apply:
If Reed's wallet had been in his pocket or even in his hand when he was arrested, the search in this case clearly would have been constitutional as a search incident to arrest. But here, Reed placed his wallet on the roof of his car prior to his arrest. Before officers searched Reed's wallet, Lahaan arrested Reed, placed him in the back of the patrol car, and continued to complete the investigation and interview other people at the scene, including Reed's passenger. By the time Carey searched Reed's wallet, there was no possibility that Reed could access the wallet. Therefore, under Gant, the justifications of the search incident to arrest exception were absent and the exception did not apply. The State's undeveloped argument that Gant is inapplicable because it concerned an automobile is unpersuasive in light of the language quoted above from Gant.
The COA also agreed that adopting the state's argument would constitute a huge expansion of the inevitable discovery rule:
The State argues that it would have been unreasonable to expect officers to leave the wallet on the roof of the car. The State further asserts that "[i]f an item is personal in nature, plainly connected to the suspect, and left out in the open, law enforcement should be able to lawfully collect the item. Once the items are lawfully with law enforcement, they may be searched. [Citation omitted.]" If the court accepts the State's assertion, it is essentially saying that officers may search any item an arrestee is "plainly connected to" and which is "left out in the open" without further requirement from the Fourth Amendment. This would run afoul to the Fourth Amendment's premise that warrantless seizures are impermissible without an established exception to the warrant requirement.
Finally, the COA rejected the application of the good-faith rule:
The State contends that the officers acted "with an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that their conduct was lawful." But even if Carey's motivation for searching Reed's wallet may have been benign, the fact remains that he violated Reed's constitutional rights by searching his wallet without a warrant and without an applicable exception to the warrant requirement. This case presents a situation where the exclusionary rule should be applied in order to deter Carey 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 Reed's wallet.
[Update: the state did not file a PR and the mandate issued on January 26, 2016.]

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