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State v. Chavez-Majors

Supreme Court of Kansas

December 20, 2019

State of Kansas, Appellee,
Kyle Alan Chavez-Majors, Appellant.


         1. Unsafe driving and the odor of alcohol can each suggest a person was driving while legally impaired and contribute to a finding of probable cause.

         2. Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 770-71, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966) established a three-prong test for fitting a warrantless blood draw into the probable cause plus exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement: (1) there must be exigent circumstances that justify the taking of the blood sample; (2) there must be probable cause to believe the defendant has been driving while legally impaired; and (3) the procedure used to extract blood must be reasonable.

         3. The natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood does not establish exigency per se.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 54 Kan.App.2d 543, 402 P.3d 1168 (2017).

          Appeal from Butler District Court; David A. Ricke, judge.

         Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the district court on the issue subject to review is affirmed in part and the case is remanded to the district court with directions.

          Rick Kittel, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

          Brett D. Sweeney, assistant county attorney, argued the cause, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, was with him on the brief for appellee.


          Rosen, J.

         Kyle Chavez-Majors was convicted of aggravated battery while driving under the influence of alcohol after the district court denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless blood draw. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction based on a violation of the right to jury trial but affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to suppress. Chavez-Majors challenges the portion of the panel's decision affirming the denial of the motion to suppress.


         On May 24, 2014, at approximately 9:22 p.m., Wildlife and Parks Ranger Tyler Burt received a call regarding a motorcycle accident in a parking lot in El Dorado State Park. When Burt arrived, there were 15 to 20 people and numerous alcoholic containers throughout the parking lot. Burt observed a motorcycle on its side and two people who appeared to be injured. Burt first checked on Jenilee Christy. She was sitting up and talking and had lacerations on one of her legs. After asking Christy if she was okay, Burt turned his attention to the other injured individual-Chavez-Majors-who was lying on the ground. Chavez-Majors was nonresponsive and appeared to have suffered a head wound, resulting in blood-soaked hair. Burt leaned close to Chavez-Majors and while checking for signs of breathing smelled a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. After confirming that Chavez-Majors was breathing, Burt remained with him until emergency medical services (EMS) personnel arrived.

         When EMS arrived, Burt had them attend to Chavez-Majors and went to speak with Isaiah McElhone, who had witnessed the accident. McElhone told Officer Burt that Chavez-Majors had been driving the motorcycle at a high rate of speed down a road that led into the parking lot when he lost control, fell off the motorcycle, which then slid into Christy in the parking lot.

         At some point after EMS arrived, Burt read an implied consent form to the unconscious Chavez-Majors and then directed EMS personnel to draw Chavez-Majors' blood. The blood sample eventually revealed that Chavez-Majors had a blood alcohol level of .14.

         Chavez-Majors was charged with aggravated battery while driving under the influence; driving while license canceled, suspended, or revoked; no proof of liability insurance; and illegal registration.

         Chavez-Majors moved to suppress the results of the blood test, arguing that the blood draw was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. At a hearing on the motion, Burt testified about the events surrounding the blood draw. He explained that he was familiar with the parking lot where the accident occurred and that it was typically referred to as the "party cove." Burt testified that "a lot of people go there and party and consume alcohol and just . . . enjoy the lake." Burt described the parking lot as 150 feet wide by 50 feet deep. He explained that one paved road with a speed limit of 45 leads up to the parking lot, curves to the right, and then dead-ends in the parking lot.

         Burt estimated that it took him 10 minutes to arrive on the scene after receiving a call about the accident. There were no other officers at the scene when he arrived. Based on skid marks that he observed on the road, Burt stated that it appeared the motorcycle had been traveling at a high rate of speed when it ran off of the road to the left, traveled a short distance, and then fell on its side and skidded across the parking lot. Burt testified that he believed Chavez-Majors had serious head injuries and was in critical condition. At some point after EMS arrived, Burt learned that Chavez-Majors was going to be transported by ambulance to a hospital in Wichita. He understood that EMS personnel considered Chavez-Majors' injuries too serious for the local hospital.

         Burt testified that he requested EMS perform a blood draw because he believed Chavez-Majors had been driving under the influence of alcohol. He based this belief on the accident, Chavez-Majors' high rate of speed, and the strong odor of alcohol coming from Chavez-Majors' breath. On cross-examination, Officer Burt admitted that it is possible for someone with a strong odor of alcohol on his or her breath to be only minimally intoxicated and for someone with very little ...

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