The Decision From Hell (Part 1)

Posted: December 27, 2011 in criminal justice system, Frog Gravy legal case, Kentucky Just Us, law, legal definitions and issues
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written by Masoninblue and reblogged from frederickleatherman.wordpress.com. If you are not following the legal case, but you are following Frog Gravy, please refer to The Bat: Frog Gravy 73.

The Kentucky State Court of Appeals issued its decision affirming Crane Station’s conviction on January 21, 2011. Her motion for reconsideration was summarily denied without an explanation. Her motion for discretionary review is pending in the Kentucky State Supreme Court.

I call the 3-0 opinion written by written by Judge Lambert and joined by judges Henry and Taylor the decision from hell and will now take it apart. First, here is a link to the decision.

The Court begins by making two fundamental errors that invalidate the conclusion it reached affirming the circuit court’s denial of the motion to suppress evidence. The two errors are:

(1) It relied on after-acquired information, including trial testimony and the dispatcher’s tape, which is prohibited by the United States Supreme Court and the Kentucky Supreme Court; and

(2) It stated that the appellant had failed to challenge any of the findings of fact in the three suppression orders, which is absolutely false.

In United States v. Hensley, the Supreme Court held that trial courts must decide the constitutional validity of investigatory stops of civilians by police officers (i.e., whether there was reasonable suspicion or probable cause to justify the stop) based on the information available to the police officer before the stop. Information acquired after the stop cannot be used to justify a stop that was not supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause because that would eliminate the rule.

The Supreme Court also held in Hensley that, even if a police officer stops a suspect acting in good faith on mistaken information provided by a dispatcher, the stop nevertheless violates the Fourth Amendment, if the correct information did not constitute a reasonable suspicion.

Therefore, the proper legal analysis under Hensley is to determine whether the information supplied by the 911 caller constituted a reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. The caller said,

And there is a lady in a dark blue looks like a Buick LeSabre. I’d say it’s a late 80s, early ’90s model. And I’ve got a license plate number. But she’s out here walking around in my neighbor’s yard and everything and writing stuff down, and she’d talked to him and mentioned something about tar heroin and all that stuff.

The caller did not describe suspicious activity, much less criminal activity. He described a conversation between his neighbor and a stranger in which the stranger mentioned the word heroin. So what?

This is not complicated. Absent information that the caller witnessed a purchase or sale of a controlled substance, or possibly a request to purchase or sell a controlled substance, there is nothing to investigate.

A reasonable suspicion is more than a mere hunch or suspicion. The hunch or suspicion must be reasonable. That is, it must be supported by articulable objective facts and circumstances that would warrant a reasonable person to conclude that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed. That did not happen.

Now, the stop would violate the Fourth Amendment, even if the dispatcher had innocently altered what the caller said and told the deputy that the caller had reported witnessing a drug transaction between his neighbor and a stranger and the officer stopped the stranger to investigate.

Why? Because the dispatcher cannot create a reasonable suspicion that did not already exist, even if the dispatcher does so by committing an innocent mistake. In other words, good faith reliance on mistaken information provided innocently by a dispatcher cannot create a reasonable suspicion where none existed. Therefore, the dispatcher’s information is irrelevant under Hensley.

But even if we consider what the dispatcher said, there still is no reasonable suspicion. He said,

Suspicious person complaint, the 4000 block of Queensway Drive off of Lester Harris and Bottom Street. A white female in a dark blue LeSabre that’s out walking around asking people about 218A.

(218A is a reference to the Kentucky State Uniform Controlled Substances Act)

Again, so what? A person walking around asking people about a drug statute is not illegal activity.

I am not saying that the caller’s tip should not have been investigated. I am saying that the proper procedure would have been to contact and interview the caller to obtain additional information regarding what he observed, which the deputy did the following day. However, even if the caller provided additional information such as, “I saw the woman buy some heroin from my neighbor,” the information could not be considered for the purpose of determining whether the deputy had a reasonable suspicion to stop Crane Station because he acquired that information after he stopped her. Therefore, it is irrelevant.

But the caller did not say anything like that. He said,

On 6-28-2006, a Lady driven a Buick LeSabre stoped at my driveway and ask me if I would sell 2 berrlles and i said they belong to my Naber. She had her painst unbuttoned and unzipped. She acted like she was under the Influence of something. She was a dirty Blonde wereing Blue shirt and Blue Jeans. (Spelling and grammatical errors in the original)

(incidentally, her jeans were not unbuttoned and unzipped in the in-dash video)

Asking someone if they are willing to sell two barrels is not criminal activity. (The barrels were made out of oak and split in half across the middle so they could be placed on a deck and used as planters) In addition, the statement does not mention heroin or any other drug. Finally, the description he provided and the conclusion that she appeared to be high on something falls far short of “sufficient articulable objective facts and circumstances that would warrant a reasonable person in concluding that the person had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime.”

Also, since the caller provided the statement after he knew about the arrest, his perspective would have necessarily changed and we cannot know whether he would have said the same thing, if he had been interviewed before the stop. The bottom line is this information should not have been considered.

Additional information that came to light at subsequent pretrial hearings or the trial itself would, of course, also be irrelevant on the issue of reasonable suspicion because it would have been after-acquired. Therefore, to the extent that the Circuit Court and later the Court of Appeals relied on such information to enter findings of fact, such findings are necessarily invalid, as a matter of law under Hensley.

A consideration of the deputy’s observations of Crane Station’s driving prior to the stop is not prohibited by Hensley. To find out what he observed, the Circuit Court should have watched and listened to the deputy testify at the suppression hearing and the Court of Appeals should have watched the video and read the transcript of his testimony at the suppression hearing. Evidently the judges did not do this because the deputy testified that her driving was exemplary, she violated no laws, and he pulled her over as soon as he realized that she and her vehicle matched the description provided by the caller. He did not pull her over because of her driving; he admitted that he pulled her over because he suspected she possessed heroin.

The deputy was the only witness at the suppression hearing. Therefore, there were no disputed facts. No he-said-she-said differences for the trial judge to resolve. He merely had to enter findings of fact based on what the witness said, but he did not do that.

Instead, he made-up some facts, such as Crane Station initiated a voluntary citizen-police contact that is not subject to the Fourth Amendment, when the deputy testified that he pulled her over. He also relied on trial testimony, which was after-acquired information, including testimony by the deputy that directly and materially contradicted his testimony at the suppression hearing.

It is difficult to know what the hell was going on when the deputy and the trial judge were making stuff up.

The Court of Appeals added to the mess by ruling that the appellant is stuck with the invalid findings of fact because she did not challenge them on appeal. That is absurd because her lawyer challenged all of the materially false facts. There is no doubt. Read her opening and reply briefs, if you do not want to take my word for it.

Finally, the Court of Appeals ignored Hensley. Ignored Crane’s argument that the HGN should not have been considered because it was improperly administered. Concluded that despite “not driving erratically or weaving” and passing a portable breath test, the invalid HGN, when considered together with nervousness, glassy eyes, her admission that she was taking prescribed Clonazepam, and other unspecified “odd behavior,” the deputy had probable cause to arrest. Apparently, despite quoting the product insert warning for Conazepam, which does not say that people who take the drug should never operate machinery or a motor vehicle the Court of Appeals believes that, as a matter of law, a police officer has probable cause to arrest anyone who takes the drug and operates a motor vehicle whether they drive properly or not. The Court also ignored federal and state cases cited by Crane’s lawyer, which hold that nervousness is not a valid or reliable indicator of impairment because people who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol typically also exhibit nervousness when stopped. They require additional evidence of evasive behavior to establish probable cause to arrest and there was no evidence of that in Crane’s case.

So, did the judges on the Court of Appeals read her briefs?

Difficult to conclude that they did, because I do not see how they could honestly claim that her lawyer failed to challenge any findings of fact, if they had read it.

On the other hand, if they wrote an opinion affirming the conviction without having read her briefs, they should be defrocked and disbarred.

Either way, they have a lot of splainin’ to do.

I will deal with the rest of the Decision From Hell in Part 2 tomorrow.

Until then, Court will be in recess.

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Comments
  1. joe says:

    I was in a situation similar to this with a recovering addict. In her case she was on her way to out patient rehab when she was involved in an accident. Being in an accident and receiving a ticket violated her probation. The accident was not her fault , but when the police pulled up her record they saw charges from her past that biased them against her. She went to court. She was sentenced to 18 months in jail back up time for a previous offense. She went to court for the accident and the charges were dropped. We applied for stated paid addiction treatment in lieu of jail time and it was granted. She spent three months in jail and the only thing that changed was that the state picked up the rehab bill that I had paid for in patient rehab voluntarily four months before. The girl is making great progress as she is on her second rehab. It is a shame that good people jump to conclusions or assume when they should be more diligent in their duties and look at the evidence. In my case the time that she should have been spending in treatment and with her kids was wasted in jail and lawyers are not cheap, but we salvaged what could have been terrible situation and turned it into bad one. I hope something positive comes out of this case.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your experience, joe. It sounds like the girl is doing well in spite of some unfortunate events. This is what we should hope for, especially when a mother and children are involved. I believe that lengthy jail time is destructive, and only leads to more recidivism. Sad that she spent three unproductive months, but good that, with help, she picked up the pieces and moved on.

      Again, thank you for your comment.

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