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Supreme Court Rules on Salina Case

KSAL StaffJuly 27, 2019

The Kansas Supreme Court has reversed a court of appeals decision in a Saline County case.

The case stems from the arrest of a woman when police found drugs in her purse after they found her acting suspiciously.

According to the court, a Salina police officer stopped Erica Tatro while she was walking in the middle of a public street at around3:30 a.m. The stop occurred in a neighborhood the officer considered high-crime area known for vehicle burglaries. He thought it suspicious that Tatro was walking in the street and using a flashlight but acknowledged the area was very dark and he only observed her using the light to see where she was walking. The officer stopped Tatro and asked for identification. She could not provide it but told the officer her name.He asked questions about where she lived and worked and whether her roommate had any contact with someone he called, “Shorty.” He then conducted a warrant check, which showed Tatro had an outstanding arrest warrant.

The officer arrested Tatro based on the warrant. He then seized her purse and conducted a pat-down search of her person.Minutes later, a second officer arrived on scene at which time the first officer searched Tatro’spurse and found a small plastic baggie and a pipe, both of which contained methamphetamine residue.The State charged Tatro with possession of drug paraphernalia.

She moved to suppress the evidence derived from the search of her purse, arguing the officer violated her constitutional rights by detaining and searching her.The State responded by asserting the officer initiated a voluntary encounter, not a seizure. The State alternatively argued reasonable suspicion justified the detention if it was a seizure. Finally, the State asserted that even if the seizure violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the United States Supreme Court’s attenuation doctrine analysis should be applied and the drug paraphernalia discovered in the search of Tatro’s purse should be admitted into evidence. The State argued the officer’s discovery of the warrant serves as a critical intervening factor breaking the causal connection between any illegality in the initial stop and the later discovery of evidence in the search incident to arrest.

Tatro moved to suppress evidence discovered in her purse after a Salina police officer stopped her while she was walking down the street. Saline County District Court granted her motion, finding the officer lacked a proper basis to detain her. The district court also rejected the State’s argument the officer’s discovery of an outstanding arrest warrant for Tatro was an intervening circumstance that broke the connection between the unlawful stop and the subsequent discovery of evidence.

A Court of Appeals panel reversed the decision. The panel agreed the officer lacked a valid basis to stop Tatro but held the officer’s discovery of the arrest warrant broke the connection between the unlawful initial stop and the later discovery of evidence.

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals because its conclusions depended on disputed facts that needed to be weighed by the judge who heard the witness’ testimony. The case is remanded to district court to make additional findings of fact.

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