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State v. Carr

Court of Appeals of Kansas

October 27, 2017

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Ralfeal Eron Carr, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches or seizures. A vehicle stop is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

         2. To lawfully stop a vehicle to investigate a crime (an investigatory detention), officers must have reasonable suspicion-an objective and specific basis for suspecting that the person being stopped is involved in criminal activity, either because the person is committing a crime, has committed a crime, or is about to commit a crime. What is reasonable depends on all the circumstances as viewed from the perspective of a trained police officer, but officers must have specific and articulable facts in support of their suspicion for it to be reasonable.

          3. To stop a vehicle based on suspicion that a person properly subject to police investigatory detention is in it, an officer must have specific and articulable facts that the person is in the vehicle. If the officer knows only that a relative of the suspect owns a similar car that had at some point been seen at the suspect's residence, the officer does not have specific and articulable facts to support reasonable suspicion that the suspect is in the vehicle at a later time.

         4. When police perform an unconstitutional search or seizure, the exclusionary rule generally bars the admission and use of the evidence obtained in a criminal trial. Because the exclusionary rule is a court-made remedy designed to deter improper police conduct, it is subject to several exceptions. One is the inevitable-discovery exception, which allows the admission of otherwise unconstitutionally obtained evidence if the police eventually would have found that evidence by lawful means.

         5. In this case, the defendant's cell phone was obtained by police through an unlawful car stop. Police then used that cell phone to determine the defendant's cell-phone number and to obtain relevant phone records. But officers would have discovered the same information even if they had not used the cell phone. The database that officers use to review phone records indicated that the phone number likely belonged to the defendant. Likewise, the same phone number appeared in a rap-music video that the defendant made. Under these circumstances, the district court properly concluded that officers would have inevitably discovered the same phone records even if they had not used the cell phone obtained through an unlawful car stop.

          6. Because the only evidence supporting the defendant's marijuana-possession conviction was found after an unlawful car stop, the defendant's conviction must be reversed.

         7. Even a trial error that infringes upon a defendant's constitutional rights may be declared harmless if the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not affect the trial's outcome in light of the entire record.

         8. In this case, the defendant was connected to a vehicle used in a drive-by shooting in part because officers found a car key in his pocket during an unlawful car stop that took place the day after the shooting. Based on our review of all the evidence in the case, we cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that the admission of the key and other inadmissible evidence obtained through the unlawful car stop had no effect on the jury's verdict. We therefore reverse the defendant's conviction for aggravated battery and remand the case for a new trial.

         9. Under the business-records exception to the hearsay-evidence rule, records of acts or events may be offered for their truth if the judge finds that (1) they were made as part of regular business operations at or about the time of the acts or events and (2) the sources of information for the records indicate they are trustworthy.

          10. An appellate court reviews a district court's decision to admit business records only for abuse of discretion, meaning that we reverse only if the district court's decision is one no reasonable person would agree with or was based on a legal or factual error.

         11. Information collected by reliable computer systems in the regular course of business and then compiled into a document by a business employee is generally admissible under the business-records exception. The district court did not err when it admitted cell-phone records maintained in the ordinary course of business by a cell-phone provider.

         Appeal from Shawnee District Court; Nancy E. Parrish, judge. Reversed and remanded with directions.

          Christopher M. Joseph and Carrie E. Parker, of Joseph, Hollander & Craft LLC, of Topeka, for appellant.

          Jodi Litfin, deputy district attorney, Michael F. Kagay, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellee.

          Before Green, P.J., Buser and Leben, JJ.

          Leben, J.

         Ralfeal Eron Carr appeals his convictions for possession of marijuana and aggravated battery, the latter conviction based on Carr's alleged participation in a drive-by shooting and police chase. Carr argues that significant evidence against him for both charges came from an unlawful car stop and shouldn't have been admitted. We agree: officers lacked reasonable suspicion to believe Carr was in the vehicle they stopped. Accordingly, the marijuana found after the stop in his pocket can't be used as evidence and Carr's marijuana-possession conviction must be reversed.

         The State used additional evidence found through the unlawful car stop to support Carr's aggravated-battery conviction; the State argues that we should find any error in the admission of that evidence harmless. But on the standard that applies here, we can only find the error harmless if we conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that its admission didn't lead to Carr's conviction. We are unable to make that finding here. One of the items found on Carr was a key to the vehicle apparently used in the drive-by shooting. While there was other circumstantial evidence that Carr had been in that vehicle when the crime was committed, having the vehicle key in his possession only a short time later formed a critical link. Given the circumstantial nature of the case, we cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury would have convicted Carr without the evidence illegally obtained at the car stop. We therefore reverse his aggravated-battery conviction as well and send the case back to the district court for a new trial on that charge.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Two shootings in Topeka in July 2015 are at the heart of this case. On July 17, Royelle Lamont Miller was outside in front of his house when someone in a car driving by shot him. The next day, someone shot and killed Antwon Love. (Since we will refer to several people from the same family and none of the significant parties or witnesses have the same first name, we will generally refer to the witnesses and actors by their first names.)

         Shortly after Royelle was shot, around 9 p.m., Officers Barry Nelson and Scott Koch from the Topeka Police Department saw a dark-colored Dodge Durango blow through a stop sign in the Hi-Crest neighborhood. The officers attempted to stop the Durango, but after initially pulling over, it sped away, resulting in a police chase. During the chase, the Durango ran through a second stop sign going approximately 70 miles per hour. At some point, the officers lost sight of the Durango, but they later recovered a gun they believed was thrown from it during the chase.

         Around the same time, the officers learned that a shooting had occurred nearby, so they responded to that scene. Royelle, who had been outside the house at the time of the shooting, had been shot in his leg. He said a dark-colored car drove by when he was shot but he did not see who shot him.

         Andre Wallace and Jesse Hughes were also there when Royelle was shot, and police found some bullet holes in the house. Andre initially told police that he was in the house and did not see the shooting. He later testified at trial that he could not remember what had happened or where he had been. Jesse testified that he "heard gun ...


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