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State v. Jones

Supreme Court of Kansas

August 29, 2014

KALA JONES, Appellee

Page 887

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Page 888

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Page 889

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 47 Kan.App.2d 866, 280 P.3d 824 (2012) . Appeal from Finney District Court; MICHAEL L. QUINT, judge.



1. In order for a law enforcement officer's seizure of a citizen to be constitutionally valid, the officer must know of specific and articulable facts that create a reasonable suspicion the seized individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime or traffic infraction.

2. When a motion to suppress is filed, the State has the burden of establishing the reasonableness of the seizure and generally may do so by producing the officer's testimony that he or she observed a driver commit a traffic infraction before initiating the stop.

3. An appellate court generally reviews the factual findings underlying a district court's suppression decision using a substantial competent evidence standard and the ultimate legal conclusion drawn from those factual findings by applying a de novo standard. An appellate court does not reweigh evidence.

4. A traffic stop is not rendered invalid by the fact it is a mere pretext for a search for illegal substances.

5. While a stop for a traffic infraction is a legitimate basis for law enforcement to initiate a vehicle stop, under the holding in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), the seizure can become unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to ask for, obtain, and record the driver's license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration; run a computer check; and issue a citation. As a general principle, once the officer determines that the driver has a valid license and the purpose for the traffic stop has ended, the driver must be allowed to leave without further delay.

6. An officer may expand a traffic stop beyond the duration necessary to fulfill the purpose of the initial stop only if there is an objectively reasonable and articulable suspicion that additional criminal activity was or is taking place.

7. An officer's inquiries or investigation into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop, including a K-9 sniff, do not convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries and investigation do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.

8. The question of whether reasonable suspicion exists is a question of law and is reviewed de novo by appellate courts.

9. Because an appellate court makes a de novo determination of reasonable suspicion, appellate review is not necessarily precluded simply because a district judge failed to explicitly state whether an officer had a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. Nevertheless, an appellate court's de novo review can only be based on factual findings made by the district judge or on undisputed facts.

10. A law enforcement officer who believes circumstances are sufficient to form a reasonable suspicion must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant a search, and a court sitting to determine the existence of reasonable suspicion must require the officer to articulate the factors leading to that conclusion.

11. A reviewing court--whether a district court in the first instance or an appellate court--must evaluate the reasonableness of a particular search or seizure in light of the particular circumstances. This review requires application of an objective standard: Would the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or search support a person of reasonable caution in the belief that the search was appropriate? In answering this question, the reviewing court must look at the totality of the circumstances of each case to see whether the detaining officer had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing.

12. Under the facts of this case, a reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the search of a vehicle did not arise under the totality of the circumstances, which included evidence that the vehicle's driver drove erratically, had cotton mouth, slurred speech, and possessed an empty plastic baggy.

Seth Lowry and Linda J. Lobmeyer, assistant county attorneys, John P. Wheeler, Jr., former county attorney, Susan Lynn Hillier Richmeier, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the briefs for appellant.

Therese Marie Hartnett, of Western Regional Public Defender's Office, was on the briefs for appellee.

LUCKERT, J. MORITZ, J., not participating.


Page 890

[300 Kan. 632] Luckert, J.:

In this interlocutory appeal, a divided Court of Appeals panel affirmed a district judge's order suppressing evidence seized during a warrantless vehicle search conducted incident to a traffic stop. State v. Jones, 47 Kan.App.2d 866, 878, 280 P.3d 824 (2012). The three judges on the panel agreed the district judge erred in concluding that the pretextual nature of the traffic stop rendered the seizure constitutionally invalid, but a majority of the panel concluded the district judge's decision to suppress the evidence should be affirmed on alternate grounds. Specifically, the majority held the law enforcement officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that justified the search. In the dissent, the third member of the panel concluded it was inappropriate to do anything but reverse and remand the case for additional findings by the district court regarding whether a reasonable suspicion existed.

On petition for review of that decision, we affirm the Court of Appeals majority. Although the dissenting judge was correct that an appellate court cannot conduct factfinding, an appellate court conducts a de novo review of the totality of the circumstances to determine whether reasonable suspicion exists. Hence, as long as the facts are undisputed or a reasonable suspicion determination can be made based on the district judge's factual findings, an appellate court can assess whether reasonable suspicion exists. In this case, the undisputed facts and the district judge's findings of fact are sufficient for appellate review of the totality of circumstances. Based on that review, we agree with the Court of Appeals majority [300 Kan. 633] that the circumstances did not establish a reasonable suspicion that justified a search of the vehicle. Thus, the search of the vehicle was invalid, and the evidence was appropriately suppressed.

We, therefore, affirm the district court and the Court of Appeals.

Procedural and Factual History

Kala Jones was stopped by Garden City Police Officer Bill Powers late one night when she was " just driving around" her mother's neighborhood; she explained that she and her passengers--her little brother and one of his friends--wanted to hear the end of a song and so kept driving rather than stopping at her mother's home. Officer Powers observed Jones " driving erratically." He explained that he ...

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