State v. Webster, No. 122,624

CourtCourt of Appeals of Kansas
Writing for the CourtBruns, J.
Citation473 P.3d 960 (Table)
Parties STATE of Kansas, Appellant, v. Joe Garcia WEBSTER III, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 122,624
Decision Date09 October 2020

473 P.3d 960 (Table)

STATE of Kansas, Appellant,
Joe Garcia WEBSTER III, Appellee.

No. 122,624

Court of Appeals of Kansas.

Opinion filed October 9, 2020.


Bruns, J.:

The State appeals from the district court's suppression of a portion of the statements made by Joe Garcia Webster III during an interview with a Reno County Sheriff's detective. The detective interviewed Webster relating to an allegation that he had sex with a woman who was unable to give her consent. Ultimately, Webster was charged with rape and aggravated criminal sodomy. Prior to trial, the district court suppressed certain statements made by Webster in the interview. On appeal, the State contends that the district court erred in suppressing the evidence. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we reverse the district court's decision and remand for further proceedings.


On January 23, 2019, Reno County Sheriff's Detective Diana Skomal went to Webster's residence to talk to him about an allegation made by his former girlfriend. Because Webster was not at home, Detective Skomal left a business card and requested that he contact her. Later that day, Webster—who was 21 years old at the time—contacted the detective and arranged to meet her at the Reno County Law Enforcement Center the following morning. Webster drove himself to the law enforcement center for the interview.

To gain access to the law enforcement center, Webster entered through the Reno County Courthouse and made contact with the sheriff's office on a secure telephone. Detective Skomal came to meet Webster and took him through a secured door, down a flight of steps, through a second secured door, and into a room with no windows. Webster sat at a table and Detective Skomal—who was in plain clothes but was wearing a badge—sat across from him to conduct the interview. There were no other officers in the room.

At the start of the recorded interview, Detective Skomal told Webster that he could leave at any time and that he did not have to talk to her. Specifically, the detective told Webster at the outset of the questioning, "You can say I don't want to talk anymore." She also told Webster that he was not under arrest but she simply wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the events. Webster indicated that he understood. The detective did not advise Webster of his Miranda rights nor did she advise Webster that any statements he made during the interview might be used against him in the event of prosecution.

During the interview, Webster's demeanor was "conversational" as he responded to Detective Skomal's questions. Similarly, the detective maintained a conversational tone and never raised her voice during the interview. When Detective Skomal asked Webster if he knew why he was being interviewed, he responded by saying that he knew that someone was accusing him of rape based on what he had seen on social media. Specifically, Webster said "this chick was going around saying that I raped her and all this and was posting it on Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook and that's how I found out ...." The Detective asked if he was talking about his former girlfriend, and he acknowledged that she was the one who was saying that he raped her.

Detective Skomal then asked Webster for specifics about the allegations made by his ex-girlfriend. In response, Webster said he and a friend had picked her up from a party at her request. According to Webster, his former girlfriend was intoxicated and appeared to have been smoking marijuana. Webster said he knew that she had been drinking, and she appeared to be "kind of" drunk. However, Webster said that she recognized him and was not slurring her speech. After first spending time at a friend's house, Webster and his friend took his former girlfriend to Webster's father's house.

A little over 16 minutes into the interview, Detective Skomal asked Webster about what happened at his father's house. Webster responded: "I would rather just ... I don't know, I don't want to talk about it." The Detective told Webster that she thought he might be uncomfortable talking about what happened. When asked if he had sex with his ex-girlfriend at his father's house, he replied "no." He also responded "no" when asked if they had fooled around at his father's house.

Detective Skomal then asked Webster what it was he did not want to talk about, and he said that "this whole situation it just irritates me" and that after "everything I've done for her and she just wants to do this to me." When Detective Skomal asked Webster why his friend had said that he saw Webster having sexual contact with the former girlfriend, Webster told her he did not know why his friend would say this and indicated that it was not true. The detective asked Webster if he had falling out with his friend that night, and he said they had not.

At that point, Detective Skomal talked about taking the case to the district attorney because Webster did not want to talk about what happened at his father's house. Webster responded by saying that if the case was sent to the district attorney, nothing would happen because it did not make sense. He also stated that his former girlfriend did not get a rape kit done. Detective Skomal continued to ask Webster about the allegations of sexual contact with his ex-girlfriend at his father's house, and he continued to deny that anything happened.

Detective Skomal asked Webster whether he thought he would be able to pass a polygraph test, and he shook his head in the affirmative. However, when the Detective asked him to take one Webster said he wanted to talk to his father and maybe to an attorney. At that point, Detective Skomal ended the interview, and Webster left the law enforcement center and drove himself home.

At no point during the interview did Webster ask to leave the room or the law enforcement center. Moreover, from a review of the video recording, it does not appear that he ever attempted to get up out of his chair in an attempt to leave. Likewise, Webster was never restrained or placed under arrest. Once the interview ended—which was about 20 minutes after it had begun—Webster left the law enforcement center. At no time did Webster make a confession or admit to having sexual contact with his former girlfriend.

Several months later, on June 17, 2019, the State charged Webster with one count of aggravated sexual battery. In particular, the State alleged that Webster had sexual contact with her when she was incapable of giving consent due to intoxication. On October 18, 2019, the State amended the charges to one count of rape and one count of aggravated criminal sodomy.

While the case was pending before the district court, Webster filed a motion to suppress the statements that he made during the January 2019 interview. On February 20, 2020, the district court held an evidentiary hearing. At the hearing, Detective Skomal was the sole witness. In addition, the video recording of the interview was played for the district court. The following day, the district court orally ruled that it was partially granting Webster's motion to suppress.

In a written order filed on February 28, 2020, the district court suppressed any statements Webster made after stating, "I don't want to talk about it." Specifically, the district court found:

"The State has failed in its burden to prove the statements were voluntarily made. Arguably the interrogation turned from noncustodial to custodial after defendant made this statement. Defendant had been escorted into the interview through 4 doors, at least two of which were locked and opened only with a code possessed by the detective. Detective Skomal instead of advising defendant that she would assist him in leaving continued to question defendant about the alleged crime. Even considering the interrogation to be noncustodial defendant unequivocally invoked his right to cease the questioning and end the interview."

Thereafter, the State filed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 22-3603, which permits an interlocutory appeal from a suppression of evidence when the suppression order substantially impairs the State's ability to prosecute the case. On August 12, 2020, we entered an order to show cause why this appeal should not be dismissed on the ground that no substantial impairment to the State's ability to prosecute had been shown. Both parties filed timely responses. Although this is certainly a close question, we conclude that the State made an adequate showing in its response to allow this interlocutory appeal to go forward under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 22-3603.


The sole issue presented in this interlocutory appeal is whether the district court erred in suppressing a portion of the statements Webster made during his interview with a Reno County Sheriff's detective on January 17, 2019. Our review of a district court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence has two components. First, we review the factual underpinnings of the decision to determine whether they are supported by substantial competent evidence. Second, we review the ultimate legal conclusion de novo. See State v. Lowery , 308 Kan. 359, 364, 420 P.3d 456 (2018).

Substantial competent evidence is that which a reasonable person could accept as adequate to support a conclusion. In determining whether the district court's findings of fact are supported by substantial competent evidence, we do not reweigh the evidence, assess the credibility of...

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