State v. Chavez-Majors

Decision Date18 August 2017
Docket NumberNo. 115,286,115,286
Citation402 P.3d 1168
Parties STATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Kyle Alan CHAVEZ–MAJORS, Appellant.
CourtKansas Court of Appeals

Rick Kittel, of Kansas Appellate Defender Officer, for appellant.

Brett D. Sweeney, assistant county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellee.

Before Schroeder, P.J., Buser, J., and Walker, S.J.

Buser, J.:

Kyle Alan Chavez–Majors appeals his aggravated battery while driving under the influence (aggravated battery while DUI) conviction, in violation of K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-5413(b)(3)(A). Chavez–Majors raises two issues on appeal. First, he contends his conviction should be reversed because he did not waive his right to jury trial prior to being tried and convicted at a bench trial. Second, Chavez–Majors claims the district court erred when it denied his pretrial motion to suppress the incriminating results of a blood draw which he argues constituted an unconstitutional warrantless search and seizure.

Upon our review, we hold the record does not show that Chavez–Majors knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to jury trial. Accordingly, his conviction is reversed and the case is remanded to the district court with directions. We also hold the district court did not err in denying Chavez–Majors' motion to suppress evidence of the blood draw.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On the evening of May 24, 2014, Officer Tyler Burt, a park ranger assigned to El Dorado State Park in Butler County, responded to a report of a motorcycle accident in the park. Upon arrival at the scene, Officer Burt found a crowd of people and the motorcycle operator, Chavez–Majors, unconscious and severely injured. A young woman, Jenilee Christy, who was struck by the motorcycle while standing in the parking lot, also sustained serious injuries.

After attending to Christy, Officer Burt went to help Chavez–Majors and immediately noticed a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. At the scene, an eyewitness, Isaiah McElhone, told Officer Burt that he saw Chavez–Majors operate his motorcycle at a high rate of speed when entering the parking lot, lose control, and fall off the motorcycle which then slid across the parking lot before striking and injuring Christy.

Emergency medical service (EMS) personnel arrived at the scene and, given Chavez–Majors' serious medical condition, decided to transport him to a hospital in Wichita. Based on his investigation, Officer Burt believed that Chavez–Majors had operated his motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol. As a result, the officer directed EMS personnel to conduct a warrantless blood draw while Chavez–Majors was still unconscious. Later testing revealed that Chavez–Majors had a blood-alcohol level of .14 grams per 100 milliliters, almost twice the legal limit.

On December 31, 2014, Chavez–Majors was charged with aggravated battery while DUI, in violation of K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-5413(b)(3)(A), a severity level 5 nonperson felony; driving while license canceled, suspended, or revoked, in violation of K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 8-262(a)(1), a class B nonperson misdemeanor; no proof of liability insurance, in violation of K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 40-3104(d), a class B misdemeanor; illegal registration, in violation of K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 8-142, First, an unclassified misdemeanor; and driving at a speed greater than was reasonable, in violation of K.S.A. 8-1557, a traffic infraction.

Prior to trial, Chavez–Majors filed a motion to suppress evidence of the blood draw. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion was denied by the district court. Later, the State and Chavez–Majors reached a plea agreement wherein the parties agreed to stipulate to certain facts after the State filed an amended information that charged the defendant with aggravated battery while DUI. For his part, Chavez–Majors agreed to waive his right to jury trial and submit the case to the district court for a bench trial on written stipulated facts. In the stipulation, Chavez–Majors preserved for appeal his objection to the seizure of his blood at the crime scene.

On June 17, 2015, after considering the written factual stipulation, the district court found Chavez–Majors guilty of aggravated battery while DUI. On September 22, 2015, Chavez–Majors was sentenced to 57 months in prison, with 24 months' postrelease supervision. Chavez–Majors appeals.

WAIVER OF RIGHT TO JURY TRIAL

For his first issue on appeal, Chavez–Majors contends his "conviction of aggravated battery while [DUI] must be reversed because there was no proper waiver of his right to jury trial." The State responds: "The lack of a contemporaneous objection to a waiver of jury trial should preclude the issue from review by the court." Alternatively:

"The State [concedes] that defendant did not offer a direct response to the issue of a waiver of a jury trial, but the court's acknowledgement in open court that the defendant was giving up jury trial rights in exchange for a dismissal of charges, effectively informed the defendant of his right to a jury trial."
Preservation of the Jury Trial Waiver Issue

We will first address the State's argument that Chavez–Majors failed to preserve this issue for appeal by failing to object in the district court that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to jury trial. The question of whether an appellate court lacks jurisdiction to determine the validity of a jury trial waiver for the first time on appeal is a question of law subject to our unlimited review. State v. Frye , 294 Kan. 364, 368–69, 277 P.3d 1091 (2012).

At the outset, Chavez–Majors candidly concedes "this matter was not raised in the court below" and that, in general, "constitutional grounds for reversal asserted for the first time on appeal are not properly before an appellate court." However, Chavez–Majors claims that two exceptions to the general rule are applicable in this case. He asserts this issue is a question of law arising on proven or admitted facts that is determinative of the case and that consideration of this claim is necessary to serve the ends of justice or prevent a fundamental denial of rights.

As a general proposition, constitutional grounds for reversal asserted for the first time on appeal are not properly before an appellate court for review. State v. Godfrey , 301 Kan. 1041, 1043, 350 P.3d 1068 (2015). There are, however, exceptions to this general rule, including the two exceptions claimed by Chavez–Majors. See State v. Phillips , 299 Kan. 479, 493, 325 P.3d 1095 (2014) (providing several exceptions to the general rule that a new legal theory may not be asserted for the first time on appeal).

Because issue preservation is a prudential rule, rather than a jurisdictional bar, appellate courts have the discretion to apply exceptions to the general rule. Frye , 294 Kan. at 368-69, 277 P.3d 1091. In Frye , for example, our Supreme Court discounted the argument that a defendant may not raise the issue of jury trial waiver for the first time on appeal, reasoning "whether the court has advised a defendant of his or her right to a jury trial ... should be one of the last to be denied the opportunity for exceptional treatment." 294 Kan. at 370, 277 P.3d 1091. Moreover, several Kansas cases make clear that the issue of a defendant's waiver of jury trial may constitute an exception to the general rule which requires a defendant to contemporaneously object in the district court in order to preserve the issue for appeal. See State v. Rizo , 304 Kan. 974, 978–79, 377 P.3d 419 (2016) ; Frye , 294 Kan. at 368–69, 277 P.3d 1091.

Because the factual record is uncontroverted in this case, the issue of whether Chavez–Majors validly waived his right to jury trial is a question of law that is determinative of this appeal. Moreover, because the right to jury trial is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights §§ 5 and 10, Frye , 294 Kan. at 372, 277 P.3d 1091, we are persuaded that Chavez–Majors has shown the two exceptions to the general rule should be applied in this case. As a result, we will review the merits of this issue.

Validity of the Jury Trial Waiver

At the pretrial conference held on June 17, 2015, both parties informed the district court they had agreed to a partial resolution of the case. This agreement provided that the State would dismiss all charges against Chavez–Majors except for aggravated battery while DUI. The parties also consented to a bench trial on the felony charge based on an agreed-upon written stipulation of facts. As articulated by the district judge:

"[THE COURT]: ... It does appear to the Court ... there's been agreements to dismiss certain charges apparently in contemplation of waiver of right to jury trial. Is that the consideration for the dismissal of the other charges, Mr. Penny [prosecutor]?
"[MR. PENNY]: Yes, Your Honor.
....
"[THE COURT]: ... I'm going to address the defendant personally and ask him now, have you had an opportunity to read fully this statement of stipulated facts that's been prepared and signed by both attorneys that would represent the trial evidence in your case?
"[MR. CHAVEZ-MAJORS]: Yes, Your Honor.
"[THE COURT]: All right. Is there anything further that you need to state about it?
"[MR. CHAVEZ-MAJORS]: No, Your Honor." (Emphasis added.)

After considering the stipulated facts, the district court found Chavez–Majors guilty of aggravated battery while DUI.

In support of Chavez–Majors' claim that he did not validly waive his right to jury trial, he cites the well-known case, State v. Irving , 216 Kan. 588, 589, 533 P.2d 1225 (1975), for the proposition that the "test for determining the validity of a waiver of the right to a jury trial is whether the waiver was voluntarily made by a defendant who knew and understood what he was doing." Chavez–Majors asserts that Irving also provides a two-part test which requires the district court to advise the defendant of his or her right to jury trial...

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4 cases
  • State v. Chavez-Majors
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • December 20, 2019
    ...waived his right to a jury trial and reversed and remanded for a new trial or an effective waiver. State v. Chavez-Majors , 54 Kan. App. 2d 543, 552, 402 P.3d 1168 (2017). The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision denying the motion to suppress. Chavez-Majors , 54 Kan. App......
  • State v. Harris
    • United States
    • Kansas Court of Appeals
    • May 11, 2018
    ...to that general rule requiring preservation of the issue for appeal through contemporaneous objection. State v. Chavez-Majors , 54 Kan. App. 2d 543, 548, 402 P.3d 1168 (2017). When the facts of the district court's determination to accept the waiver of jury trial are not disputed, the quest......
  • State v. Johnson
    • United States
    • Kansas Court of Appeals
    • May 1, 2020
    ...remedy is to reverse the conviction and remand for a new trial on this charge. See Frye , 294 Kan. at 371 ; State v. Chavez-Majors , 54 Kan. App. 2d 543, 551-52, 402 P.3d 1168 (2017).The court erred when it refused to instruct the jury on the lesser included charge of misdemeanor criminal d......
  • City of Junction City v. Franklin
    • United States
    • Kansas Court of Appeals
    • February 21, 2020
    ...the facts presented to the district court by comparing them to loosely relevant Kansas cases—Keenan and State v. Chavez-Majors, 54 Kan. App. 2d 543, 553, 402 P.3d 1168 (2017), aff'd in part and remanded 310 Kan. 1048, 454 P.3d 600 (2019). Keenan reflects the unremarkable proposition that pr......

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