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State v. Althaus

Court of Appeals of Kansas

August 2, 2013

STATE of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Martin ALTHAUS, Appellant.

Page 717

Syllabus bye the Court

1. Assessing the legal effect of an affidavit in support of a search warrant typically

Page 718

presents a question of law over which appellate courts exercise unlimited review.

2. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable government searches and seizures and requires that warrants be issued on probable cause presented under oath to a judicial officer. Those protections offer their most profound service at the threshold of a citizen's residence.

3. When law enforcement officers conduct an unreasonable search, thereby violating the Fourth Amendment rights of an individual, the courts have commonly precluded the use of any resulting evidence in the prosecution of that individual as a remedy for the violation. The exclusionary rule is the most effective way to deter unconstitutional searches on the theory that law enforcement officers will avoid those searches precisely because the government will be deprived of resulting inculpatory evidence in prosecuting accused criminals.

4. Whether a court should enforce the exclusionary rule in a given case presents a question separate from the defendant's demonstration that his or her Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. The court asks if the cost in retarding a given criminal prosecution by excluding evidence justifies the resulting benefit in deterring Fourth Amendment violations. Deterrence of police misconduct is the functional purpose of the exclusionary rule.

5. Evidence should not be suppressed if law enforcement officers have relied in good faith on a signed warrant in conducting a search.

6. There are four circumstances in which the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule does not apply: (1) the judicial officer issuing the warrant has been misled by information the author of the affidavit knew or should have known to be false; (2) the judicial officer has wholly abandoned the role of a detached and neutral official and has merely rubberstamped the request for a warrant; (3) the affidavit is so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable; or (4) the warrant itself is patently deficient, for example, in describing with particularity the place to be searched or the items to be seized.

7. Application of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule presumes a well-trained law enforcement officer having a reasonable knowledge of what the law prohibits. A law enforcement officer, therefore, should be conversant in the broad precepts implicated in a Fourth Amendment search and, likewise, should recognize an obviously deficient warrant.

8. Probable cause in the context of a search warrant request requires that government agents know specific facts leading a reasonable person to conclude evidence of a crime may be found in a particular place. Those facts must then be stated under oath to a judge to obtain a search warrant.

9. Because a search warrant requires an evidentiary foundation, law enforcement officers may not rely on conclusory assertions or opinions unmoored from specific factual representations. The facts need not be in a form admissible at trial— hearsay and other secondhand information may suffice, if the overall circumstances demonstrate reliability. But judicial officers cannot provide the independent check contemplated in the Fourth Amendment if they are asked to review conclusions rather than facts.

10. Legal principles related to probable cause, the exclusionary rule, and the good-faith exception are applied. Under the facts of this case, the affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant for the defendant's home was so lacking in indicators of probable cause a reasonable law enforcement officer could not have relied on the warrant in good faith.

11. A well-trained law enforcement officer necessarily must recognize that a warrant issued without factual support violates the Fourth Amendment, and the State, therefore, may not rely on the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule to use any materials seized as evidence in the criminal prosecution of a citizen.

Christina M. Waugh, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, for appellant.

Page 719

Thomas R. Stanton, deputy district attorney, Keith E. Schroeder, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellee.

Before ATCHESON, P.J., PIERRON, J., and LARSON, S.J.

ATCHESON, J.

Defendant Martin Althaus challenges his convictions for drug-related offenses in Reno County District Court on the sole ground that the search warrant for his home violated his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures and the contraband law enforcement officers found there should have been excluded as evidence against him. The district court judge ruling on Althaus' motion to suppress held the Reno County Sheriff's deputy requesting the warrant failed to present probable cause to support the search but then acted in good faith when a different judge nonetheless signed the warrant, thereby rendering the search and seizure constitutionally unobjectionable and the evidence admissible. The district court erred in denying Althaus' motion to suppress. The application for the warrant was without any factual basis for the search of Althaus' home, a defect a reasonable law enforcement officer would have immediately recognized. The good-faith exception does not apply when an officer's reliance on a search warrant is objectively and entirely unreasonable. We, therefore, reverse the district court and remand with directions to vacate Althaus' convictions, to grant his motion to suppress, and to proceed with the case in a manner consistent with this opinion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 16, 2010, Reno County Sheriff's Deputy Rick Newton requested and received a search warrant for Althaus' Hutchinson home from District Court Judge Joseph L. McCarville, III. The warrant authorized officers to search the house for methamphetamine and other illegal drugs or related contraband and evidence of illegal trafficking, including paraphernalia for packaging and distribution of drugs and records of illicit transactions. Newton and other law enforcement officers executed the search warrant later that day. The officers seized a case for eyeglasses containing a small amount of methamphetamine, glass pipes commonly associated with the use of illegal drugs, and plastic sandwich bags in which traffickers often package those drugs.

After District Court Judge Trish Rose denied Althaus' motion to suppress— the controlling issue in this case to which we return shortly— Althaus was found guilty of possession of methamphetamine, a felony violation of K.S.A. 2010 Supp. 21-36a06, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor violation of K.S.A. 2010 Supp. 21-36a09, in a bench trial on stipulated facts. Judge Rose later placed Althaus on probation for 12 months with an underlying sentence of 15 months in prison on the methamphetamine offense and a concurrent sentence of 12 months in jail on the paraphernalia offense. Althaus has timely appealed those convictions, arguing the drugs and paraphernalia should have been suppressed as the product of an unlawful search of his home in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. On appeal, he also challenges his sentence. But in light of our ruling reversing the convictions, the sentencing issue is moot, and we do not consider it further.

Deputy Newton presented a nine-page affidavit to Judge McCarville in support of the search warrant. The affidavit contains information about Althaus in a single paragraph covering about half a page. The paragraph, in full, states:

" On July 16, 2010, members of the D.E.U. observed two individuals who they know to be involved in the use and/or distribution of methamphetamine at Ms. Garcia's residence. One of the individuals is Marty Althaus, who upon leaving Ms. Garcia's residence drove directly to a storage facility at Hutch Storage, Unit 44B at 801 North Hendricks, Hutchinson, Kansas, where he stayed for approximately 1 minute. This storage unit is rented under the name of Robbin Garcia, [street numbers redacted from original] Westside Villa. During the last several months, the D.E.U. has observed Mr. Althaus frequenting a

Page 720

residence at [street numbers redacted from original] East B Avenue, Hutchinson, Reno County, Kansas, which is owned by Ms. Garcia and her husband. The D.E.U. has observed Mr. Althaus at this residence at times when Ms. Garcia was present and at other times when Ms. Garcia was not present. The D.E.U. knows Marty Althaus resides at [street numbers redacted from original] Hayes Street, Hutchinson, Reno County, Kansas."

The only other paragraph in the affidavit mentioning Althaus is a general one in which Deputy Newton offers his opinion that the information demonstrates probable cause to conclude Althaus is involved in the distribution of illegal drugs and illegal drugs may be found in his home.

The balance of the affidavit offers information principally about Tammy Wise and to a lesser extent Robbin Garcia, who is mentioned in the paragraph about Althaus. The affidavit recounts surveillance of Wise's residence confirming many people arriving and leaving in especially short time periods-a circumstance Deputy Newton avers, based on his training and experience, to be indicative of drug trafficking. The affidavit states that individuals the investigators " know[ ] to be involved in the manufacturing of methamphetamine have been observed at [Wise's] residence." The affidavit relates other encounters or meetings between Wise and ...


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