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State v. Karson

Supreme Court of Kansas

June 21, 2013

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
David Christopher Karson, Appellant.

SYLLABUS

1. An appellant's death during the pendency of a petition for review from the conviction of a criminal offense does not automatically abate the appeal. The issues may be fully reviewed and adjudicated when doing so is in the public interest or when it is in the interest of the appellant's family and estate.

2. Warrantless searches are considered unreasonable and invalid unless they fall within a recognized exception to the warrant requirement. It is the State's burden to demonstrate a warrantless search was lawful.

3. Neither the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution nor § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the use of evidence obtained in violation of their protections. Instead, the judicially created exclusionary rule prevents the use of unconstitutionally obtained evidence in some circumstances.

4. The exclusionary rule operates to protect Fourth Amendment rights generally through its deterrent effect on law enforcement, rather than serving as a personal constitutional right of the victim of an illegal search and seizure. It does not apply to evidence obtained by police who acted in objectively reasonable reliance on K.S.A. 22-2501(c) prior to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009).

5. When it was effective, K.S.A. 22-2501 set forth the permissible circumstances, purposes, and scope for a search incident to arrest. An officer's subjective understanding or articulation of K.S.A. 22-2501 as the legal basis for a search incident to arrest is not determinative of whether there was objectively reasonable reliance.

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 44 Kan.App.2d 306, 235 P.3d 1260 (2010). Appeal from Johnson District Court; Thomas H. Bornholdt, judge.

Rachel L. Pickering, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, was on the briefs for appellant.

Steven J. Obermeier, assistant district attorney, Ramsey A. Olinger, legal intern, Stephen M. Howe, district attorney, Steve Six, former attorney general, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the briefs for appellee.

OPINION

Biles, J.

A now deceased David Karson appealed his drug convictions, claiming the incriminating evidence found in his car should have been suppressed because it was illegally obtained after his arrest on an outstanding traffic warrant. At the time of his arrest, state law authorized a search incident to arrest for the purpose of "discovering the fruits, instrumentalities or evidence of a crime." (Emphasis added.) K.S.A. 22-2501(c). But after Karson was convicted, the United States Supreme Court held such searches illegal in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009); see also State v. Henning, 289 Kan. 136, Syl. ¶ 6, 209 P.3d 711 (2009) (declaring K.S.A. 22-2501[c] unconstitutional based on Gant).

Karson argues the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress the drug evidence obtained from the vehicle search, which was prophetically based on an argument that the search incident to arrest was illegal. The State concedes the search was illegal under Gant but asserts we do not need to decide this case because Karson died while the appeal was pending. In the alternative, the State argues application of a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule based upon the police officer's objectively reasonable reliance on a then-valid statute. Karson counters that the exception should not apply, in part, because the State did not prove the officer actually relied on the statute. We affirm Karson's convictions based on our two recent decisions in State v. Dennis, 297 Kan. __, 300 P.3d 81 (2013), and State v. Daniel, 291 Kan. 490, 242 P.3d 1186 (2010), cert. denied 131 S.Ct. 2114 (2011).

Factual and Procedural Background

The facts are not disputed. On March 12, 2007, Karson parked his car at a gas station, where a nearby police officer performed a routine check of the car's license plate. The officer determined the vehicle was registered to Karson and that Karson had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation. The officer approached Karson, confirmed his identity, and arrested him before securing him in the backseat of a patrol car. The officer then began searching Karson's vehicle, where drugs and drug paraphernalia ...


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