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State v. Evans

Supreme Court of Kansas

November 21, 2018

State of Kansas, Appellant,
Julia Colleen Evans, Appellee.


         1. In construing the command for reasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the United States Supreme Court has held that a search of private property is unreasonable unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant or one of the specifically established and well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement.

         2. Law enforcement officers have discretion in conducting inventory searches so long as that discretion is exercised according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity.

         3. An essential predicate to any valid warrantless seizure of incriminating evidence under the plain-view exception to the warrant requirement is that a law enforcement officer cannot have violated the Fourth Amendment in arriving at the place from which the evidence could be plainly viewed. In addition, the evidence's incriminating character must be immediately apparent.

         4. Where a container is involved, complying with the warrant requirement or one of its well-delineated exceptions is required because the Fourth Amendment provides protection to the owner of every container if the container conceals its contents from plain view.

         5. Under the facts of this case, the State failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that a specifically established and well-delineated exception to the warrant requirement permitted the search for a driver's license in an automobile driver's purse and wallet.

          Appeal from Dickinson District Court; Benjamin J. Sexton, judge.

          Daryl E. Hawkins, assistant county attorney, argued the cause, and Andrea Purvis, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with him on the brief for appellant.

          Whitney T. Kauffeld, assistant public defender, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellee.


          LUCKERT, J.

         Julia Colleen Evans argues law enforcement officers violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution when they conducted a warrantless search of her purse and wallet after an ambulance took her from the scene of an automobile accident. To justify the constitutionality of the search, the State must establish the law enforcement officers conducted a search under authority of a warrant or one of the specifically established and well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. Here, the State relies on the plain-view exception and the officer's administrative caretaking function of locating a driver's license to complete an accident report. The district court held the State had not met its burden of establishing the application of an established exception to the warrant requirement, and we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The State charged Evans with two counts: (1) unlawful possession of methamphetamine and (2) possession of drug paraphernalia after officers performing a warrantless search of her purse and wallet found evidence of those crimes. Evans moved to suppress evidence, and the district court held an evidentiary hearing on Evans' motion. The State presented testimony from Dickinson County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Longbine and Abilene Police Department Sergeant Mark Haaga.

         Deputy Longbine testified he responded to a call of a car accident on I-70. At the scene, Longbine observed it appeared the driver "went off the side of the road, and went up the incline, and flipped one time, and landed with the door against" a pole. Longbine approached the car and found Evans was in pain and distraught. Longbine talked to her, and learned her first name.

         Sergeant Haaga arrived to assist Deputy Longbine. Shortly after Haaga arrived, Longbine left the scene to respond to another call. Haaga spoke with the driver, who said her name was Julia Evans. She also told him she did not want to have an ambulance. She informed him she had called her ex-boyfriend. Haaga knew the ambulance was almost at the scene and knew emergency personnel would have to extract Evans from the car. Haaga noticed no signs Evans was impaired, nor did he detect any smell of alcohol, marijuana, or anything else emanating from the car.

         Once emergency personnel arrived, Sergeant Haaga directed traffic while the emergency personnel removed Evans from the car. As the emergency personnel were placing Evans in the ambulance, Haaga "asked them to ask her where her driver's license was, so [he] could obtain that, for the accident report." They said they would get back to him but did not. After the ambulance pulled away, Haaga observed a purse in the car. He also saw a woman's wallet next to-not in-the purse. It is his practice under these circumstances to collect anything of possible value from the car for safekeeping so it is not lost or stolen when, as in this case, the car will be towed to a "wrecker yard."

         After entering the car to take custody of the purse and wallet, Sergeant Haaga looked through Evans' purse. When he did not find Evans' driver's license, he turned to the wallet. He opened a zippered compartment on the outside-what Haaga described as the "backside"-of the wallet. In the compartment he found "a small plastic baggie with the white crystal substance in it." He believed the substance was methamphetamine. He then opened the main part of the wallet and found Evans' driver's license. Haaga testified he was not investigating a crime at the time, he was just looking for the license.

         Sergeant Haaga later took the purse and wallet to the sheriff's department and gave them to Deputy Longbine. Longbine explained the reason for taking Evans' purse was to obtain her driver's license number so the sheriff could determine "if she's suspended, or not suspended. It gives us her name. Her photo, also, gives us the information of knowing that is the person that was in the car." In addition, the sheriff's office uses the license number to determine whether the driver has a record or is required to have an interlock device on the car. Longbine said that at that time he was only investigating the accident, and it is necessary to obtain the driver's license to do paperwork for the accident. Longbine testified to testing the white crystals; they tested positive for methamphetamine.

         Longbine explained he could not take the purse to Evans because there was not enough manpower for him to go to the hospital. But he no longer had the wallet. He explained:

"I gave it back to her-matter of fact, her boyfriend kept on calling and calling for it. And she-he-she wanted it. And I said I'm only going to take it and give it to her. And then when she got out of the hospital-she was still in her gown, and she was-it looked like she had her arm propped up. And that's when I went outside and handed it to her."

         After hearing Deputy Longbine's and Sergeant Haaga's testimony, the district court judge ruled from the bench. The judge first noted Haaga conducted a search without a warrant. The judge then noted none of the exceptions to the warrant requirement applied. The judge acknowledged the "officer's situation . . . of investigating an accident, and-and wanting to take the shortcut." The judge observed that alternatives were available, such as impounding the automobile or getting a warrant if a search was justified. But "the opening of the wallet, ...

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