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State v. Meitler

Court of Appeals of Kansas

March 27, 2015

STATE OF KANSAS, Appellant,
v.
TROY MEITLER, Appellee

Page 671

Appeal from Reno District Court; TRISH ROSE, judge.

SYLLABUS

BY THE COURT

1. Our state and federal Constitutions protect citizens from unlawful searches and seizures.

2. 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 respective protections. Instead, the exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy to prevent the use of unconstitutionally obtained evidence in a criminal case.

3. The exclusionary rule operates to protect Fourth Amendment rights generally through its deterrent effect upon law enforcement rather than serving as a personal constitutional right of the victim of an illegal search and seizure.

4. A law enforcement officer's subjective understanding or articulation of K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) as the legal basis to obtain a blood draw is not determinative of whether there was objectively reasonable reliance on the statute.

5. The exclusionary rule does not apply to evidence obtained by law enforcement officers who acted in objectively reasonable reliance on K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) prior to the Kansas Court of Appeals' decision in State v. Declerck, 49 Kan.App.2d 908, 317 P.3d 794 (2014), rev. denied 299 Kan. __, (June 20, 2014).

Andrew R. Davidson, assistant district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellant.

Gregory D. Bell, of Forker Suter LLC, of Hutchinson, for appellee.

Before SCHROEDER, P.J., BUSER and ATCHESON, JJ. ATCHESON, J., dissenting.

OPINION

Page 672

[51 Kan.App.2d 309] Schroeder, J.:

The State appeals the district court's granting of Troy B. Meitler's motion to suppress evidence of a blood sample which revealed the presence of methamphetamine and marijuana shortly after a two-vehicle collision. While driving his car, Meitler crossed the centerline and collided with another vehicle which resulted in the death of the other driver.

Meitler was severely injured in the collision, and while unconscious, his blood was drawn at the hospital at the direction of Trooper John Maier. After criminal charges were filed against Meitler, he filed a motion to suppress the results of the blood draw based on a recent Kansas Court of Appeals decision in State v. Declerck, 49 Kan.App.2d 908, 317 P.3d 794, rev. denied 299 Kan. __ (June 20, 2014), which found that K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) is unconstitutional. The district court suppressed the evidence from Meitler's blood draw, ruling that Declerck applied to this case, and the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply.

We hold the district court erred in suppressing the evidence of Meitler's blood draw because the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule is applicable to the facts of this case. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's order suppressing the evidence and remand for further proceedings.

Factual and Procedural Background

On February 10, 2012, in Reno County, Trooper Stephen A. Morris of the Kansas Highway Patrol responded to the scene of a two-vehicle accident. Upon his investigation, Trooper Morris determined Meitler was the driver of the car who left his lane of traffic, crossed the centerline, and caused the fatality collision. Although Trooper Morris discovered no evidence of alcohol or drug impairment at that time, he also did not observe any roadway features, conditions, or debris to explain why Meitler crossed the centerline into oncoming traffic causing the collision. Meitler was flown to a Wichita hospital because of the severity of his injuries.

Page 673

Trooper Morris requested a Sedgwick County-assigned trooper go to the hospital to obtain a sample of Meitler's blood. Trooper [51 Kan.App.2d 310] John Maier went to the hospital. Trooper Maier was informed by the dispatcher that Meitler was involved in a fatality accident and had been deemed the at-fault driver. Trooper Maier placed a copy of the implied consent advisory on Meitler's body as he read the advisory aloud, but Meitler was unable to follow along and appeared to be unconscious. Trooper Maier asked Meitler to consent to the blood draw, and after receiving no response, marked " yes" on the advisory. Trooper Maier then directed healthcare personnel to draw Meitler's blood. Trooper Maier took custody of the blood sample which later tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine and marijuana.

Meitler was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter pursuant to K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 21-5405(a)(3), aggravated battery pursuant to K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 21-5413(b)(2)(A), and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs pursuant to K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1567(a)(4). Meitler filed a motion to suppress the results of his blood test, arguing that a fatality collision involving a driver who commits a traffic offense does not provide probable cause the driver was impaired at the time of the collision. Meitler argued to the district court that Declerck controlled and, because K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) which permitted the blood draw was unconstitutional, Meitler's blood-test results should be suppressed. See 49 Kan.App.2d 908, 317 P.3d 794, Syl. ¶ ¶ 5-7 (finding K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001[b] unconstitutional).

The State countered that Declerck was inapplicable because, unlike Declerck who refused the blood draw, Meitler was unconscious, and pursuant to the statute had impliedly consented to the blood draw. Alternatively, the State argued that Trooper Morris' and Trooper Maier's objective and reasonable reliance on K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) before it was declared unconstitutional warranted applying the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, thus permitting the results of the blood draw to be admitted in evidence at trial. At Meitler's suppression hearing, the district court ordered the parties to submit additional briefing on whether the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply to prevent the evidence from being suppressed.

[51 Kan.App.2d 311] Upon receipt of the additional briefing, the district court issued an order suppressing the results of the blood draw. First, the district court based its ruling on the fact that Trooper Morris did not have probable cause to suspect Meitler was operating or attempting to operate his vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Second, the district court found that, based upon Declerck, K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) was unconstitutional as applied to this case. Finally, the district court determined the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply because Trooper Morris did not rely on K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) when compelling Meitler's blood draw.

The State timely filed an interlocutory appeal.

Analysis

K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) provides:

" (b) A law enforcement officer shall request a person to submit to a test or tests deemed consented to under subsection (a): . . . . (2) if the person was operating or attempting to operate a vehicle and such vehicle has been involved in an accident or collision resulting in serious injury or death of any person and the operator could be cited for any traffic offense, as defined in K.S.A. 8-2117, and amendments thereto. The traffic offense violation shall constitute probable cause for purposes of paragraph (2). The test or tests under paragraph (2) shall not be required if a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe the actions of the operator did not contribute to the accident or collision. The law enforcement officer directing administration of the test or tests may act on personal knowledge or on the basis of the collective information available to law enforcement officers involved in the accident investigation or arrest." (Emphasis added.)

On appeal, the State acknowledges that in Declerck a panel of our court declared K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2)

Page 674

unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Declerck involved a rollover accident which resulted in the death of the passenger in Declerck's vehicle. Declerck was injured and taken to the hospital. At the hospital, Declerck refused to consent to a blood draw requested by an investigating police officer after the officer informed her of the statutorily mandated implied consent advisory. Upon Declerck's refusal, in keeping with K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) and orders from his supervisor, the officer directed the hospital staff to draw a blood sample from Declerck. [51 Kan.App.2d 312] Declerck was charged with involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs pursuant to K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 21-5405(a)(3) based on the evidence from her blood draw.

Declerck filed a motion to suppress the blood-draw evidence, and the district court sustained the motion. The State filed an interlocutory appeal, and a panel of our court affirmed the district court's suppression of the evidence. The panel held: " K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) is unconstitutional to the extent it requires a search and seizure absent probable cause that the person was operating or attempting to operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A traffic infraction, plus an injury or fatality, without more, does not constitute probable cause that drugs or alcohol were involved in the accident." Declerck, 49 Kan.App.2d 908, 317 P.3d 794, Syl. ¶ 6.

The Declerck panel acknowledged the potential application of the good-faith exception to Declerck's circumstances, but it declined to consider the issue because the State did not raise it before the district court. Thus, there were insufficient facts upon which to evaluate whether this case merited application of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. 49 Kan.App.2d at 922-23.

Here, while acknowledging Declerk's potential application, the State contends it is inapplicable given one distinguishing fact. The State argues that in Declerck the driver refused to consent to the blood draw, while in this case Meitler was unconscious and, therefore, consented pursuant to K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(a) (" a person who is dead or unconscious shall be deemed not to have withdrawn a person's consent to such test or tests" ). Additionally, the State claims that even if K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) is unconstitutional under the facts of this case, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies to allow the admission of the blood draw obtained by Trooper Maier in objectively reasonable reliance on that statute.

For purposes of this opinion, we recognize Declerck determined that K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 8-1001(b)(2) is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment, and we presume that Declerck 's holding is applicable under the facts of this case. As a result, the sole question presented is whether the district court erred in concluding [51 Kan.App.2d 313] that the good-faith exception did not apply under the facts of this case.

We begin the analysis by stating our standard of review:

" An appellate court generally reviews a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress using a bifurcated standard. The trial court's findings are first reviewed to determine whether they are supported by substantial competent evidence. Appellate courts do not reweigh the evidence, assess the credibility of the witnesses, or resolve conflicting evidence. The ultimate legal conclusion regarding the suppression of evidence is then reviewed de novo. If the material facts in a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence are not in dispute, the question of whether to suppress is a question of law over which an appellate court has unlimited review." State v. Martinez, 296 Kan. 482, 485, 293 P.3d 718 (2013) (citing State v. Johnson, 293 Kan. 1, 4, 259 P.3d 719 [2011]).

Our state and federal Constitutions protect citizens from unlawful searches and seizures. State v. Daniel, 291 Kan. 490, 496, 242 P.3d 1186 (2010), cert. denied131 S.Ct. 2114, 179 L.Ed.2d 908 (2011). Here, the district court ordered suppression of Meitler's blood draw by invoking the exclusionary rule. Neither the Fourth Amendment to ...


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