State v. Taylor

Decision Date30 October 2020
Docket Number118,792
CourtKansas Court of Appeals
PartiesState of Kansas, Appellee, v. Cameron Michael Taylor, Appellant.


Appeal from Finney District Court; Ricklin Pierce, judge.

Kasper Schirer, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, for appellant.

William C. Votypka, deputy county attorney, Susan Lynn Hillier Richmeier, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt attorney general, for appellee.

Before Malone, P.J., Atcheson and Schroeder, JJ.



A jury sitting in Finney County District Court found Defendant Cameron Michael Taylor guilty of battery against a law enforcement officer, intentional criminal threat, and possession of marijuana-all felony charges. We reverse the marijuana conviction because the district court erred in denying Taylor's motion to suppress the drugs as the product of an unconstitutional search and seizure. In turn the admission of the marijuana as evidence at trial was impermissibly prejudicial to Taylor on the possession charge. We do not find Taylor's other claims of error sufficient to reverse the remaining convictions, so we affirm them and the resulting sentences. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the district court with directions to both suppress the marijuana and to grant Taylor a new trial on the possession charge.

Denial of Motion to Suppress
A. Marijuana

We begin with Taylor's motion to suppress the marijuana as a product of a police detention violating his rights secured in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution to be free from unreasonable government searches and seizures. In reviewing the district court's denial of that motion, we look at the evidence presented at the hearing on the motion and at the preliminary hearing, since the parties agreed to the admission of that testimony, as well. Taylor submitted that Garden City Police Officer Richard Colburn had no valid reason to stop him as he walked down a street in that city in the middle of the afternoon. The State countered that the officer had ample grounds to detain and then search Taylor, resulting in the discovery of the marijuana.

Colburn provided the only relevant testimony describing the stop. Taylor testified at neither the suppression hearing nor the preliminary hearing. The district court appears to have credited Colburn's factual account, so we proceed accordingly. In reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, we apply a bifurcated standard. We give deference to the district court's findings of fact so long as they have support in the evidence; we then make an independent determination of whether those findings justify the district court's legal conclusion. State v. Patterson, 304 Kan. 272, 274, 371 P.3d 893 (2016); State v. Woolverton, 284 Kan. 59, 70, 159 P.3d 985 (2007). The State bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a search or seizure conforms to the Fourth Amendment. Patterson, 304 Kan. at 272; State v. Pollman, 286 Kan. 881, 886, 190 P.3d 234 (2008).

Colburn was on routine patrol in the middle of the afternoon on April 26, 2017, when he saw Taylor walking down the street in what has been characterized as a mostly residential area of Garden City. According to Colburn, Taylor did nothing to suggest he had just committed a crime or was preparing to do so. Colburn saw nothing to indicate Taylor was carrying a handgun, illegal drugs, or other contraband. So Taylor did not appear to be in the process of committing a crime.

But Colburn testified the neighborhood was a "high drug area," and police had made two arrests for firearms and illegal drugs there in the preceding two weeks. Colburn said he had "located firearms in that area" and had "located narcotics in that . . . particular block." In addition, Colburn explained that at the police roll call the day before, a detective announced that Taylor had been seen with a handgun and an unspecified amount of methamphetamine. At the suppression hearing, Colburn agreed there were no active warrants for Taylor's arrest.

Colburn testified that he had "prior knowledge of" Taylor that included an understanding he was a "narcotics trafficker" and a member of a particular street gang. Another officer had told Colburn that Taylor was skilled in martial arts. And Colburn alluded without detail to Taylor's previous interactions with law enforcement. Throughout the record in this case, there are veiled references to an incident several years earlier that led to Taylor being charged with multiple counts of battery against a law enforcement officer. A jury apparently found him not guilty in early 2015.

Colburn said he decided to stop Taylor because of the roll call bulletin from the day before and the character of the neighborhood as a drug trafficking locale. As Colburn described the encounter, he pulled his patrol car alongside Taylor, got out, and declared, "Cameron, come over here." When Colburn spoke, Taylor began backing away and made "furtive movements" with his hands around the waistband of his pants-actions Colburn considered to be consistent with Taylor having a handgun. Colburn testified that he did not consider Taylor free to leave and told him he was being "detained." He also said he was concerned for his own safety if Taylor had a handgun.

At the preliminary hearing, Colburn testified he ordered Taylor to face away from him with his hands raised above his head. Taylor complied and asked what he had done wrong. By then, Colburn had requested a backup officer and told Taylor to wait until another officer arrived so he could do a pat-down for weapons. According to Colburn, Taylor denied having a gun. At the suppression hearing, Colburn testified that he ordered Taylor to turn around, to get on his knees, and to place his hands on the back of his head.

After Officer Jairo Armenta arrived, Colburn did a pat-down search of Taylor and felt something consistent with marijuana in a plastic bag in a pocket of Taylor's pants. Colburn then handcuffed Taylor and removed what was, indeed, marijuana from the pocket. Taylor, however, had no handgun or other weapons. Because Taylor had a previous conviction for possession of marijuana, he was charged with felony possession in this case. We pause our narrative of the events to consider the search and seizure issues bearing on the discovery of the marijuana.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits government agents, including law enforcement officers, from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures of persons or their effects. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the courts have identified four general categories or types of interaction between law enforcement officers and citizens: voluntary encounters; investigatory or Terry stops; arrests; and public safety contacts. State v. Cleverly, 305 Kan. 598, Syl. ¶ 4, 385 P.3d 512 (2016).

Taylor contends there was nothing voluntary about his interaction with Colburn and the officer had insufficient grounds for an investigatory detention and search. The State argues that Colburn and Taylor engaged in a voluntary encounter that morphed into a constitutionally sufficient investigatory detention when Colburn ordered Taylor either to turn around and raise his hands or to kneel and place his hands behind his head, followed by an equally permissible search. The State's argument partially aligns with the district court's ruling in denying the motion to suppress. As we explain, however, both the State and the district court have offered constitutionally untenable analyses. Our discussion focuses on the hallmarks of voluntary encounters and investigatory detentions.

Neither the parties nor the district court analyzed the stop as an arrest. A constitutionally proper arrest requires the arresting officer to have either probable cause to conclude the person detained has committed a crime or a reasonable belief the person is the subject of a valid warrant. Since probable cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion, a seizure that cannot be factually justified as a Terry stop or investigative detention necessarily fails as a constitutionally proper arrest. Nobody has suggested this was a public safety contact-a species of interaction between government agents and citizens quite different from investigatory detentions or arrests-in which a law enforcement officer acts not in service of a criminal investigation but on an objectively reasonable belief a person may be in peril. See State v. Messner, 55 Kan.App.2d 630, 635, 419 P.3d 642 (2018).

A voluntary encounter, as the phrase suggests, entails a law enforcement officer approaching a person and initiating a conversation with the individual absent any legal grounds to detain him or her or to otherwise compel any cooperation. Accordingly, the individual freely may choose to stay and respond or may simply walk away. See Florida v Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434-35, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991); State v. McKeown, 249 Kan. 506, 509-10, 819 P.2d 644 (1991). The parameters of the interaction are legally no different from two private citizens meeting by chance in a public place- either may disregard the other at no more than the cost of appearing rude. See City of Topeka v. Grabauskas, 33 Kan.App.2d 210, 219, 99 P.3d 1125 (2004) (Fourth Amendment voluntary encounter preserves right of citizen to refuse to answer questions and to leave). Concomitantly, a law enforcement officer rebuffed during a voluntary encounter cannot treat the citizen's lack of cooperation as an indicator of criminality warranting an investigatory stop or some other involuntary detention. McKeown, 249 Kan. at 509-10; Grabauskas, 33 Kan.App.2d at 219; see also Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497-98, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983) (plurality opinion) (c...

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