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Casper v. Kansas Department of Revenue

Supreme Court of Kansas

June 14, 2019

Kelly Casper, Appellee,
v.
Kansas Department of Revenue, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The determination of whether an officer has reasonable grounds for a particular action involves a mixed question of law and fact, and appellate courts review the ultimate legal conclusion-whether reasonable grounds existed-independently, while deferring to the district court's factual findings that are supported by substantial competent evidence.

         2. An arresting officer's recorded statement to a driver that she reeked of alcohol is nothing more than an out-of-court statement without evidentiary value unless the usual standards for establishing the competence of evidence are followed.

         3. Although field sobriety tests may have objective grading criteria that officers must follow, it is an officer's subjective opinion that determines whether a suspect has passed the objective field sobriety tests.

         4. Field sobriety tests are based on common knowledge, and a reviewing judge may use common knowledge to reevaluate a driver's performance on field sobriety tests.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed October 14, 2016.

          Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; Kevin J. O'Connor, judge.

          Adam D. King, of Legal Services Bureau, Kansas Department of Revenue, argued the cause, and J. Brian Cox, of the same office, was on the briefs for appellant.

          Jonathan W. McConnell, of Wichita, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellee.

          OPINION

          Rosen, J.

         The Kansas Department of Revenue (KDOR) suspended Kelly Casper's driving privileges based on her arrest and refusal to take a blood alcohol test. She appealed to district court, where the judge held that she met her burden of proving both that the arresting officer lacked reasonable grounds to believe that she was driving while impaired and lacked probable cause to arrest her. KDOR appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed, holding that the record on appeal supported an opposite conclusion. We granted Casper's petition for review and now reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals panel.

         Facts

         According to Casper's testimony before the district court, on October 25, 2013, she was visiting family in Wichita, Kansas, and had a glass of wine at around 5:30 in the afternoon. A couple of hours later, she took some sips of alcoholic beverages at a friend's house in order to taste-test the drinks for an upcoming party. At around midnight, she drove away from her friend's house and, when making a right turn, turned into the left travel lane instead of the lane nearest her turn lane.

         Officer Steven Thornton of the Wichita Police Department witnessed the wide turn, which, while a relatively common type of turn, is a traffic infraction. He followed Casper's car for a while and did not observe any other traffic infractions. He saw no driving indicators that the operator was impaired. He turned on his emergency blinking lights and followed her as she signaled, pulled over into the right lane, and then turned onto a side street. At the same time, a video recording of the encounter was commenced, which was later entered into evidence.

         Thornton asked Casper if she had been drinking, and she said yes. He then asked her to get out of the car and perform a couple of field sobriety tests. According to Thornton's testimony in district court, Casper's eyes were not bloodshot, and her statements were, for the most part, clear and concise. Thornton testified that Casper was initially "fine," but, over the course of several tests, she "became a tad bit uncooperative" and "a little argumentative." He asked her to perform three field sobriety tests: a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, a walk-and-turn test, and a balance-on-one-foot test. In his estimation, she did not perform these tests satisfactorily, and he placed her under arrest. She subsequently refused to take a breathalyzer test.

         Thornton issued Casper a notice of suspension for refusing to take a blood alcohol test. Casper timely requested an administrative hearing. The KDOR Division of Vehicles conducted an administrative hearing and, affirming the administrative action suspending her license, concluded that law enforcement had reasonable grounds to believe that ...


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