Kansas DUI Defense Attorney Discusses Illegal Searches

Last month, the Kansas Court of Appeals panel ruled that a District Court judge had incorrectly suppressed blood evidence in a case where a driver was charged with operating under the influence of drugs, involuntary manslaughter, and aggravated battery at the time of his involvement in an accident involving a fatality. The suppression was based upon a lack of probable cause. The case has been remanded to the district court in Hutchinson.

The blood evidence that is at issue in this case is a blood sample that was drawn while the defendant, Troy Meitler, was unresponsive. At the time that the blood sample was drawn, Meitler was receiving emergency medical treatment after he was injured in an automobile accident. Since Troy Meitler was unresponsive, he was unable to consent to having his blood drawn when a state trooper asked him for consent to do so. The state trooper maintains that no such consent was required for the sample to be taken, though, due to a Kansas statute that was enacted in 2008 which states that a driver’s involvement in an accident which results in serious injury or death constitutes a traffic violation which provides probable cause to conduct a warrantless search.

There is more to this case than the text of the 2008 Kansas warrantless search statute, though. In suppressing the blood evidence, the District Court judge cited a ruling from the Court of Appeals which declared the 2008 Kansas warrantless search law unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches. In that same ruling, the Declerck decision, the Court of Appeals further concluded found that a driver’s involvement in a traffic accident is not a valid reason to suspect that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, even if the accident caused serious injuries or death. However, the Court of Appeals, in its decision, ruled that evidence obtained from Meitler’s blood sample could be admitted as evidence because the trooper acted in good faith when ordering the blood sample, and the trooper’s lack of awareness regarding the unconstitutionality of the statute was reasonable.

It will be interesting to see how the district court rules now that the case has been remanded, as well as whether the case will be appealed again. In his dissenting opinion, Appeals Court Judge Gordon Atcheson mentions the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Illinois vs. Krull, which states that there are two situations in which an officer’s good-faith reliance on an unconstitutional statute does not justify their actions. The situation which applies to the Meitler case is that the legislature completely abandoned its responsibility to enact constitutional laws when it enacted the statute in question, the law permitting warrantless searches after automobile accidents which result in injury or death. Atcheson feels that allowing the trooper to rely on the 2008 Kansas warrantless search statute serves to override the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Krull.

Warrantless searches are just one type of illegal search that can lead to a DUI arrest. If you have been accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, a Kansas DUI Defense Attorney can help you reduce or eliminate the negative consequences associated with those charges. To learn more, please call (316) 264-1548.