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State v. Neighbors

Supreme Court of Kansas

April 25, 2014

State of Kansas, Appellant,
v.
Justin W. Neighbors, Appellee

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed November 10, 2011.

Page 1082

Appeal from Lyon District Court; W. Lee Fowler, judge.

Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversing the district court is reversed. Judgment of the district court is affirmed.

SYLLABUS

BY THE COURT

1. Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a warrantless entry into a private dwelling by law enforcement officers is considered unreasonable and invalid unless it falls within a recognized exception to the warrant requirement. Kansas courts interpret § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights to provide the same protection from unlawful government searches and seizures as the Fourth Amendment.

2. On a motion to suppress evidence, an appellate court reviews the factual findings underlying the trial court's suppression decision using a substantial competent evidence standard. The legal conclusions drawn from those factual findings are reviewed using a de novo standard. The court does not reweigh evidence.

3. Kansas recognizes various exceptions permitting warrantless entries and searches: consent; search incident to lawful arrest; stop and frisk; probable cause to search accompanied by exigent circumstances, such as hot pursuit; emergency aid; inventory searches; plain view; and administrative searches of closely regulated businesses. It is the State's burden to demonstrate a warrantless entry and the ensuing search and seizure were lawful.

4. Emergency aid is an exception to the warrant requirement. It requires that (a) law enforcement officers enter the premises with an objectively reasonable basis to believe someone inside is seriously injured or imminently threatened with serious injury and (b) the manner and scope of any ensuing search once inside the premises is reasonable. Our prior caselaw applying a different test is overruled.

Amy L. Aranda, senior assistant county attorney, argued the cause, and Vernon E. Buck, first senior assistant county attorney, Marc Goodman, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellant.

Stephen J. Atherton, of Atherton & Huth, of Emporia, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellee.

OPINION

Page 1083

[299 Kan. 235] Biles, J

A warrantless entry into a private dwelling by law enforcement officers must fall within a recognized exception to the warrant requirement to be considered reasonable and valid under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights. In this case, we consider whether a warrantless entry by police and their ensuing search and seizure were justified under the emergency aid exception when officers entered a locked

Page 1084

apartment to assist an unresponsive person but then began a criminal investigation once the individual was awake and clearly not needing emergency medical assistance. We hold the officers unreasonably exceeded the permissible scope of their warrantless entry and agree with the district court that the drug evidence obtained as a result should be suppressed.

In so ruling, we realign our previous Kansas test for applying the emergency aid exception (also referred to in our caselaw as the " emergency doctrine" ) with more recent decisions of the United State Supreme Court. See, e.g., Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 406-07, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006) (emergency aid exception allows warrantless entry into a dwelling when officers have objectively reasonable basis to believe an occupant is seriously injured or imminently threatened with serious injury). We reverse the Court of Appeals decision reversing the district court's suppression ruling and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with our ruling.

Factual and Procedural Background

A landlord at an Emporia apartment complex used his key to enter a tenant's apartment when the rent was past due. The landlord testified he knocked and entered the apartment around 10:30 a.m. to see if it had been abandoned. As he entered, he saw a man lying on a couch. The man did not respond to the landlord's attempts to wake him up by yelling and beating on the door. The landlord called 911 and reported, " [T]here's someone in an apartment of mine, and I don't know who it is, and they won't wake [299 Kan. 236] up." Two officers and two training officers responded at 10:35 a.m. to a " trespass problem."

Officer Lane Doty testified he approached the apartment with the landlord, knocked on the door, and identified himself as a police officer. Doty said there was no response. The landlord opened the door, and the officers could see from the doorway a person lying on the couch. Doty testified they attempted to wake him by yelling and again stated who they were. There was still no response. Officers then notified dispatch of the situation, indicating a concern for the unidentified man's safety. Doty testified, " We weren't sure what [the man's] health condition was, and we made entry."

But the officers were able to wake the defendant, Justin T. Neighbors, who initially appeared to be " groggy, very unstable." Doty testified Neighbors at first was not able to sit up. Doty said, " [H]e tried to verbalize things and tell us his name, and he was not able to do that for a little bit." Neighbors eventually did identify himself, and the officers reported his name to dispatch and confirmed he did not have any outstanding warrants.

The officers then began questioning Neighbors about whether he had permission to be in the apartment. Neighbors said he did and informed them the tenant was in jail in Morris County. The officers confirmed with the tenant through their central dispatch that Neighbors had permission to be in the apartment.

In the meantime, officers discovered a woman in the apartment's back bedroom. The officers had similar concerns regarding the woman's permission to be there, but they did not contact the tenant as they had done with Neighbors.

While this ensued, Officer Lance Delgado, a narcotics investigator, heard Neighbors' and the woman's names broadcast over his police radio. Delgado and Deputy Cory Doudican, a sheriff's deputy with the drug task force, recognized the names as drug offenders and drove to the apartment to investigate. Delgado and Doudican both arrived at 10:50 a.m. Doudican testified that within a few seconds after he entered the apartment officers told him Neighbors had permission to be there. The deputy immediately went to the bedroom to speak with the woman.

[299 Kan. 237] As Delgado entered the apartment, Neighbors was sitting on the couch. Delgado immediately approached Neighbors; observed a Q-Tip with black residue nearby, which can suggest drug use; and noted Neighbors " seemed a little sleepy." Delgado said Neighbors looked like a methamphetamine

Page 1085

user because he was sweating profusely and gaunt. But Delgado also admitted Neighbors was awake and able to converse. Delgado testified he immediately asked Neighbors if he had any weapons on him. Neighbors said he had a knife in his pants. Delgado instructed him to stand against a wall while he patted him down for weapons and removed the knife.

After this first pat-down search, Delgado told Neighbors to sit on the couch and relax. But believing Neighbors was " possibly in possession of methamphetamine and/or drug paraphernalia," Delgado obtained consent to search Neighbors' outer clothing. After finding nothing, Delgado asked Neighbors for consent to search the pants underneath his outer pants. Neighbors paused for a moment but then consented. Delgado discovered a small bag of methamphetamine in the seam area of Neighbors' boxer shorts. Neighbors was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of school property, failure to affix a drug tax stamp, and felony use or possession of drug paraphernalia.

It is not clear when Delgado was told Neighbors had permission to be in the apartment. Delgado testified he spoke to another officer while standing in the living room talking to Neighbors and that this officer told him the tenant had been contacted.

In pretrial proceedings, Neighbors filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence, alleging the warrantless entry and seizure of evidence violated the Fourth Amendment and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights. Neighbors argued any justification for the warrantless entry based on the emergency aid doctrine dissipated before Delgado arrived and began a drug investigation. If so, Neighbors continued, the officers' continued presence and subsequent searches were unlawful.

The district court granted the motion to suppress after a hearing but without making any factual findings. The journal entry states only that the motion was granted. Accordingly, the district court's analysis must be gleaned from its comments during the hearing.

[299 Kan. 238] The district court held the officers' entry was proper given the landlord's testimony about an unresponsive person inside the apartment. But the district court found the emergency ended once the officers knew Neighbors was lawfully on the premises, which suggests the court believed the trespass investigation was part of the emergency. The court also stated it was not certain how much time elapsed between when Officer Doty learned Neighbors was lawfully present and when Delgado began questioning Neighbors, but it found Neighbors was illegally seized by that point because " the officers exceeded their time spent allowed in the apartment." The judge went on to hold:

" [I]t's really two separate investigations. And Delgado comes in later, goes straight to him inside the residence, and starts asking these questions and investigates the case.
" And really at that point, absen[t] some other manifestation of some sort of evidence that would indicate there were drugs on the premises, which I didn't see, that didn't exist. So I'm going to suppress the evidence based upon exceeding the reasonable time allowed to investigate the well-being or the identity of the defendant."

The State filed an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals reversed, with Judge, now Chief Judge, Malone concurring and dissenting in part. State v. Neighbors, 263 P.3d 222, 2011 ...


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