State v. Ellis, No. 120,046

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas
Writing for the CourtThe opinion of the court was delivered by Rosen, J.
Citation469 P.3d 65
Parties STATE of Kansas Appellee, v. Shelbie ELLIS, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 120,046
Decision Date07 August 2020

469 P.3d 65

STATE of Kansas Appellee,
v.
Shelbie ELLIS, Appellant.

No. 120,046

Supreme Court of Kansas.

Opinion filed August 7, 2020.


Rick Kittel, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, was on the briefs for appellant.

Laura L. Miser, assistant county attorney, and Marc Goodman, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with her on the brief for appellee.

The opinion of the court was delivered by Rosen, J.:

469 P.3d 69

Shelbie Ellis appeals from the denial of her motion to suppress evidence relating to possessing drugs and from her subsequent conviction. The Court of Appeals reversed, and this court granted the State's petition for review.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On the afternoon of January 20, 2018, an employee of a Casey's General Store in Emporia called in a police report that a woman had been in a store restroom stall for about 45 minutes and had been seen at one point on her hands and knees. Police officers Eric Law and William Kent were dispatched to the store for a welfare check, with Kent arriving at the scene first. The employee told Kent that the woman had told her she was "fine."

According to Officer Kent's affidavit, he went to the restroom door, knocked, and announced, "Police department." He told the woman the business staff was concerned about her being in the restroom for so long and had asked the police to check on her. According to Kent, the woman replied "she was feeling well and asked if she needed to come out." Kent asked her to step out so he "could see if she was ok." She told him "she had stomach issues due to her eating something."

Kent asked to see her driver's license, and he identified her as Shelbie Ellis. He held onto her license and placed a call to dispatch asking them to run the license information for possible outstanding warrants. Ellis told Kent that she and a friend were on their way to Michigan from Stafford, Kansas. She said that her friend was waiting in the car for her.

Kent directed her to step outside the store to see whether the friend was still around, and at about this time Officer Law arrived at the scene. Ellis walked around to the south of the building and then said the friend must have left, probably trying to find characters for a mobile Pokémon game. Kent then directed Ellis to call the friend to come get her. While this was going on, Kent received a report from the police dispatcher that Ellis had a possible outstanding warrant from Rice County, Kansas, for a probation violation.

As Ellis was attempting to call her friend, Kent observed her hands shaking. He asked her if she had been using drugs that day. She said that she had not but she was aware her hands were shaking. Kent then asked her if

469 P.3d 70

he could search her bag for drugs. She replied, "Please don't." He followed up by asking what she had been doing in the restroom. She replied, "I would never use drugs in a public restroom, but I do have drugs in my purse. I have meth and a pipe in my purse."

After Ellis finally contacted the driver and asked him to come back for her, based on a confirmation of the warrant report from the dispatcher, Kent placed her in handcuffs and read her her Miranda rights. He escorted Ellis to the back of his patrol car and then searched her wallet, where he found a clear plastic baggie containing a crystalline substance. In her makeup bag, he found a glass pipe wrapped inside two stockings. He then transported her to the county jail, where she was confined on the outstanding warrant and the pending drug charges. A field kit gave a positive test for methamphetamine for the crystalline substance and residue in the glass pipe.

On January 22, 2018, the State filed a complaint charging Ellis with one count of possession of methamphetamine and one count of possessing drug paraphernalia. Through counsel, Ellis filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the seizure and subsequent search exceeded the scope of the encounter. The State filed a response, arguing that the attenuation doctrine set out in Utah v. Strieff , 579 U.S. ––––, 136 S. Ct. 2056, 195 L. Ed. 2d 400 (2016), legitimized the seizure.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress. The court also denied a motion to reconsider. Ellis elected to go to a trial before the bench, where she again objected to the introduction of the drug evidence. The court found her guilty of both counts. On August 15, 2018, the court sentenced her to a standard term of 13 months of incarceration with 12 months of postrelease supervision for the methamphetamine charge and a concurrent term of 6 months for the paraphernalia charge. The court then placed her on probation for a period of 18 months. She took a timely appeal to the Court of Appeals.

The panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed, holding that the investigatory detention exceeded the scope of the welfare check and the evidence obtained as a result should have been suppressed. State v. Ellis , 57 Kan. App. 2d 477, 489-90, 453 P.3d 882 (2019). This court granted the State's petition for review and noted Ellis' response.

The State urges this court to decide that the Court of Appeals either ignored or misunderstood the attenuation doctrine, which states that, following a legitimate seizure, the discovery of a valid arrest warrant legitimizes further detention and consequent searches. For the reasons set out below, we disagree with the position that the State advocates.

ANALYSIS

When a party appeals a ruling based on the attenuation doctrine, the appellate court considers questions of fact that it reviews to determine whether the facts are supported by substantial competent evidence. The appellate court then reviews the district court's ultimate legal conclusion de novo. State v. Christian , 310 Kan. 229, 235, 445 P.3d 183 (2019) ; see State v. Hanke , 307 Kan. 823, 827, 415 P.3d 966 (2018) (general standard of review for reviewing district court decision on motion to suppress).

We will initially address whether Officer Kent lawfully engaged with Ellis and requested her identification and will conclude that he did. We will then address whether Kent lawfully detained Ellis and will conclude that he did not. Finally, we will address whether the attenuation doctrine mitigates the unlawful detention and will conclude that it does not. We will conclude that the Court of Appeals correctly held that the evidence used against Ellis should have been suppressed.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." Section 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights contains similar language and provides "the same protection from unlawful government searches and seizures as the Fourth Amendment." See State v. Neighbors , 299 Kan. 234, 239, 328 P.3d 1081 (2014).

469 P.3d 71

This court first recognized the concept of a public safety stop in State v. Vistuba , 251 Kan. 821, 840 P.2d 511 (1992), disapproved in part on other grounds by State v. Field , 252 Kan. 657, 847 P.2d 1280 (1993). In that case, the officer testified that she observed erratic driving and was concerned that the driver might be impaired, but the officer specifically stated that she suspected no criminal activity from her observations. The Supreme Court determined the stop was lawful and held: "[A] civil or criminal infraction is not always essential to justify a vehicle stop. Safety reasons alone may justify the stop, if the safety reasons are based on specific and articulable facts ." 251 Kan. at 824, 840 P.2d 511.

In State v. Gonzales , 36 Kan. App. 2d 446, 456, 141 P.3d 501 (2006), the Court of Appeals adopted a three-part test to determine the legality of a public safety stop. First, as long as there are objective, specific, and articulable facts from which an experienced law enforcement officer would suspect that a citizen needs help or is in peril, the officer has the right to stop and investigate. Second, if the citizen needs aid, the officer may take appropriate action to render assistance. Third, once the officer is assured that the citizen is not in peril or is no longer in need of assistance, any actions beyond that constitute a seizure, implicating the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment. This court has never adopted the Gonzales test, but, in State v. Marx , 289 Kan. 657, 662-64, 215 P.3d 601 (2009), we discussed the test without expressly applying, adopting, or rejecting it. We deem the Gonzales test appropriate in analyzing the legality of the search in the present case.

While not a vehicle stop, Kent's contact with Ellis was justified by safety reasons based on specific and articulable facts. The testimony was uncontroverted that Kent initiated his contact with Ellis in response to a store employee's concerns for Ellis' health or safety. Ellis had spent an unusually long time in the restroom and had been observed on her hands and knees on the floor. When he arrived, Kent inquired whether she was all right, consistent with an investigation into her wellbeing. Ellis replied that she was feeling generally well but was dealing with some digestive issues. This...

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17 practice notes
  • State v. Gilliland, 122,479
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • May 14, 2021
    ...caselaw. Herring v. United States , 555 U.S. 135, 142, 129 S. Ct. 695, 172 L. Ed. 2d 496 (2009) ; State v. Ellis , 311 Kan. 925, 933-34, 469 P.3d 65 (2020). But that good-faith exception is not applied when the error was deliberate, reckless, grossly negligent, or related to recurring or sy......
  • State v. Brooks, 120
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • August 13, 2021
    ...the [prosecution's] case where a Fourth Amendment violation has been substantial and deliberate.'"); State v. Ellis, 311 Kan. 925, 933-34, 469 P.3d 65 (2020) (discussing exclusionary rule and exceptions to its application). At the suppression hearing, the district court reviewed the applica......
  • State v. Brooks, 120
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • August 13, 2021
    ...the [prosecution's] case where a Fourth Amendment violation has been substantial and deliberate.'"); State v. Ellis, 311 Kan. 925, 933-34, 469 P.3d 65 (2020) (discussing exclusionary rule and exceptions to its application). At the suppression hearing, the district court reviewed the applica......
  • State v. Shimer, 122,409
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • September 24, 2021
    ..." ‘the same protection from unlawful government searches and seizures as the Fourth Amendment.’ " State v. Ellis , 311 Kan. 925, 929, 469 P.3d 65 (2020). Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the stop of a vehicle being driven always constitutes a seizure. State v.Cl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • State v. Gilliland, 122,479
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • May 14, 2021
    ...caselaw. Herring v. United States , 555 U.S. 135, 142, 129 S. Ct. 695, 172 L. Ed. 2d 496 (2009) ; State v. Ellis , 311 Kan. 925, 933-34, 469 P.3d 65 (2020). But that good-faith exception is not applied when the error was deliberate, reckless, grossly negligent, or related to recurring or sy......
  • State v. Brooks, 120
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • August 13, 2021
    ...the [prosecution's] case where a Fourth Amendment violation has been substantial and deliberate.'"); State v. Ellis, 311 Kan. 925, 933-34, 469 P.3d 65 (2020) (discussing exclusionary rule and exceptions to its application). At the suppression hearing, the district court reviewed the applica......
  • State v. Brooks, 120
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • August 13, 2021
    ...the [prosecution's] case where a Fourth Amendment violation has been substantial and deliberate.'"); State v. Ellis, 311 Kan. 925, 933-34, 469 P.3d 65 (2020) (discussing exclusionary rule and exceptions to its application). At the suppression hearing, the district court reviewed the applica......
  • State v. Shimer, 122,409
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • September 24, 2021
    ..." ‘the same protection from unlawful government searches and seizures as the Fourth Amendment.’ " State v. Ellis , 311 Kan. 925, 929, 469 P.3d 65 (2020). Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the stop of a vehicle being driven always constitutes a seizure. State v.Cl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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