Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky Just Us’

The Full-Text Suppression Hearing pdf [Frog Gravy legal case]

Leatherman Suppression Hearing_0001

This article is written by Masoninblue and published full text here with permission.

Author’s note: This diary is part of the Frog Gravy legal case and will be posted in three parts beginning today and ending on Thursday, which is Thanksgiving. In this part I explain basic pretrial legal procedure that is common in criminal cases. Specifically, I explain suppression hearings, which most of you probably have heard about, but might not know some of the finer details. This information will be helpful to understanding the incredibly bizarre events that followed; events that will be the subject of the next two parts. Now, get comfortable, buckle your sealtbelt, and get ready for your ride down the rabbit hole.

If you have not already done so, I recommend you watch the embedded video, in which a 16-year-old white girl is ordered to stand trial for murder as a 300-pound black man, to get yourself in the proper frame of mind. And, now here is The Curious Case of the Three Suppression Orders

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The exclusionary rule prohibits the prosecution from using evidence against a defendant, if that evidence was seized by police in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

A suppression hearing is a pretrial hearing in which a defendant asks the court to suppress evidence that the prosecution intends to introduce at trial against the defendant. If the court grants the request and orders the evidence suppressed, the prosecution is prohibited from introducing it or referring to it during the trial.

Suppression hearings are held before trial to resolve legal issues relating to the admissibility of evidence allegedly seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, because in many cases, especially drug cases, the prosecution would be unable to try the case, if the court were to order the evidence suppressed. If that were to happen, the prosecution would be forced to dismiss the case and there would be no need for a trial.

Normally, a court issues a written order granting or denying the motion to suppress and sets forth findings of fact and conclusions of law that support the order. Findings of fact, as the term implies, are findings regarding what happened. They are the facts of the case upon which the conclusions of law must be based.

For example, let us suppose that Archie testified that a traffic light was green and Gillian testified that it was red. Whether the light was green or red would be a disputed fact and the judge would have to find as fact one or the other. If both witnesses agreed that the light was red, that would be an undisputed fact and the judge would have to find as fact that the light was red.

Normally, there is only one suppression order and it is entered before the scheduled trial date. Usually, the prevailing party drafts the order and provides opposing counsel with a copy. If opposing counsel agrees to the proposed order, the trial court will enter it as an agreed order without a hearing, unless the judge wants to change something. When that happens, the judge will schedule a hearing to finalize the order. The prosecutor, defense counsel, and the defendant appear for the hearing, hash out their differences, and the judge makes a final ruling. In other words, the process is transparent and ex parte contact with the judge (by one lawyer without the other present) is prohibited.

When suppression orders are appealed, the appellate courts review challenged findings of fact to determine if they are “clearly erroneous.” That is, unsupported by any evidence. Appellate courts uniformly refuse to second-guess a trial court’s challenged finding of fact, as long as there is some evidence to support it, even if the appellate judges might personally disagree with the trial court. Their reluctance to second-guess the trial court is based on the well-founded notion that they are not in as good a position to judge witness credibility since they were not present when the witness testified.

Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. That is, they are reviewed anew without any deference to the trial court.

Crane-Station’s lawyer filed a motion, which is a formal request, to suppress all of the evidence seized by police after she was pulled over while driving down the highway and arrested for driving under the influence of drugs. Her lawyer argued for suppression on the grounds that:

1. The stop violated the Fourth Amendment because police pulled her over without a reasonable suspicion to believe that she had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime; and even if they did have a reasonable suspicion;

2. The subsequent arrest violated the Fourth Amendment because police lacked probable cause to believe that she had committed a crime.
The suppression hearing took place on November 27, 2006. Only one witness testified, Deputy Eddie McGuire of the McCracken County Sheriff’s Department.

We have already recounted his testimony in some detail and will not repeat it here, except to briefly summarize and note that there were no disputed facts, since he was the only witness who testified. Therefore, it should have been relatively easy for a sentient being, especially an educated judge who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and impartially follow the law, to come up with a set of findings of fact that were supported by the evidence.

Alas, it was not to be.

To be continued

Written by Masoninblue, my husband, and published here, full-text, with permission.

An interesting Fourth Amendment issue arises from time to time regarding whether a police officer initiates a contact with a person operating a motor vehicle by pulling it over, or the driver voluntarily initiates the contact by stopping the vehicle and signals for assistance by turning on the vehicle’s blinking hazard lights, as might be the case for example, with a health emergency, a flat tire, or running out of gas.

With few exceptions, the first situation is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, unless the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the motorist has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. A reasonable suspicion is more than a mere hunch because it must be supported by an articulable set of objective facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to suspect that the individual being observed had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. In the standard drunk driving case, for example, an officer would have a reasonable suspicion to believe the operator of a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol if the vehicle was weaving, crossing the center line, exceeding the speed limit, and speeding up and slowing down erratically. The courts apply a flexible totality of the circumstances test in determining whether the officer’s suspicion was reasonable in any given case. The courts will not consider information acquired after a stop because the officer did not know it prior to the stop and could not have relied on information he did not know.

The second situation is not subject to the Fourth Amendment because there is no seizure when a police-citizen contact is initiated voluntarily by the citizen, or the citizen appears to require assistance. This means that an officer does not have to have a reasonable suspicion to contact a citizen who initiates the contact, or otherwise appears to require assistance. This distinction certainly makes sense when one considers, for example, the plight of a motorist who may have suffered a heart attack, turned on the hazard lights, pulled over, and stopped the vehicle before lapsing into unconsciousness. It would not make any sense to require a police officer to have a reasonable suspicion to believe that the apparently unconscious person was committing a crime to justify stopping to check on the person.

Unfortunately, however, the distinction between an investigatory stop that requires a reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment and the voluntary citizen initated contact with a police officer that is not subject to the Fourth Amendment is not always easy to determine. As with the reasonable suspicion test, the courts consider the totality of the circumstances and ask whether a reasonable person in the same set of circumstances faced by the person in the case under review would have believed that he was free to terminate the contact at any time and drive away rather than remain and submit to the authority of the law enforcement officer until released.

This issue was raised by the prosecution in Crane-Station’s case. The trial judge agreed with the prosecution and ruled that the arresting officer, McCracken County Sheriff Deputy Eddie McGuire, did not require a reasonable suspicion to pull her over because she had voluntarily initiated a citizen-police contact to which the Fourth Amendment did not apply.

Consider the following evidence, apply the legal rules that I have set forth and explained for you, and see if you agree with the trial judge’s conclusion.

At the suppression hearing on November 27, 2006, Deputy McGuire testified that he was dispatched to investigate a 911 call. After he arrived, he checked the neighborhood for a few minutes looking for a dark blue Buick LeSabre with Washington plates that was described by the caller. When he did not find it, he cleared the call and headed back toward town on U.S. Highway 60.

(Note: The content of this call has been discussed in a previous article (link). Briefly, the caller told the 911 dispatcher that the driver of the vehicle had mentioned “something about tar heroin and all that stuff” while talking to his neighbor in the neighbor’s yard and writing in her notebook. Since this information, even if true, describes what someone said to another person that may or may not have been witnessed by the caller and it does not describe a crime or an attempt to commit a crime, the call was insufficient to cause a reasonable person to suspect that the person described by the caller had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. To conclude otherwise would be to hold that police officer may lawfully seize and investigate any person who mentions the name of a controlled substance to another person. Such a rule not only would dispense with the requirement that the suspected behavior be criminal in nature, it would violate a person’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.)

As McGuire approached the traffic-light controlled intersection at U.S. Highway 60 and Cairo Road, he suddenly realized that he was passing a vehicle that matched the description provided by the 911 caller. After admitting that he did not know how fast he was driving as he approached and drew alongside her vehicle (Suppression Transcript p. 13), he said,

As I was passing the vehicle she had her left blinker on as if she was going to turn out in the passing lane, but she never did.

And then as I was going to go ahead and go past her, I noticed that the license plate – it was a Washington license plate was the description that was also given at the time of the call. So when I noticed that, I slowed down and let her go back by me, and then when I pulled in behind her, she pulled over.

(Suppression Transcript p. 6)

The prosecutor asked him when he turned on his emergency lights and he said,

I just pulled in behind her, and she started to pull over. That’s when I lit her up.

(Suppression Transcript p. 6)

On cross-examination, defense counsel asked McGuire if she “was driving appropriately.” He said,

I was going – yes. She didn’t bring my attention as far as weaving or nothing like that. Speed wasn’t a factor.

(Suppression Transcript p. 13)

Defense counsel focused on the blinking left-turn signal with a few questions.

Q: Okay. And apparently, your testimony is that she had on her turn signal?

A: She had her left-turn signal on as if she was going to come into the left lane. That’s what brought my attention to that vehicle to begin with. And then as I was passing her, I noticed it had Washington tags.

Q: So I guess there’s at least a possibility she was going to move into the left lane and –

A: Right.

Q: — saw your vehicle and elected not to?

A: Correct. That’s possible.

(Suppression Transcript pp. 12-13)

Defense counsel asked him to describe when she activated her right-turn signal. He said,

A: She turned her other turn signal on when she was going into the emergency lane just to stop.

Q: When she was getting ready to pull over?

A: Yes.

(Suppression. Transcript p. 15)

When defense counsel asked him if he activated his lights “even before she came to a complete stop,” McGuire answered, “Correct.” (Suppression Transcript p. 14)

Q: So, technically, you did stop the vehicle?

A: I was going to, anyway, yes. When she started to pull over, I just went ahead and turned my lights on.

Q: When you fell in behind her, she pretty much –

A: She – yeah. I suppose she assumed I was going to stop her, so she went ahead and pulled over anyway.

Q: Safe assumption under those circumstances?

A: Right.

(Suppression Transcript 14-15)

Consider also that Deputy McGuire wrote in his Uniform Citation and Offense Report that he stopped her, which he confirmed in testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing and before the Grand Jury.

In addition, on October 17, 2006, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney (now a McCracken County District Court judge) Christopher B. Hollowell prepared and filed the Commonwealth’s Bill of Particulars declaring in pertinent part under penalty of perjury that Deputy McGuire “stopped” her vehicle.

(Note: this is also admissible non-hearsay as a declaration by a party opponent that arguably should be dispositive of the legal issue. See Part 1 of my four-part series on the hearsay rule.)

The critical question then is whether a reasonable person in Crane-Station’s position would have pulled over into the emergency lane and subsequently stopped her vehicle after a police officer, who had pulled alongside her, slowed down, fell in immediately behind her, and activated his emergency lights as she moved over into the emergency lane?

We do not believe the answer to this question is reasonably debatable, especially since the officer who pulled her over wrote in his report and consistently testified under oath at three different pretrial hearings that he “stopped” her. Finally, in the suppression hearing, he testified that he intended to stop her and he conceded that her reaction to his behavior by pulling over and stopping was reasonable under the circumstances.

He was the only witness who testified at the suppression hearing.

We believe that only outcome driven judicial mendacity by the trial judge and the Court of Appeals, aided and abetted by a strong dose of prosecutorial legerdemain in formulating an argument unsupported by the police officer, who was the only witness, could conclude on this set of undisputed facts that Crane-Station voluntarily initiated a citizen-police contact.

Author’s disclosure: Crane-Station is my wife. We were married and I was a law professor when this incident intruded into our lives.

Cross posted at my new law blog and at the Smirking Chimp.

Lighter Side of the Frog Blog:

Cross-posted at FrederickLeatherman.wordpress.com and republished at this site full-text with permission.

In Crane Station’s case, the Court of Appeals said,

In the present case, we hold that Deputy McGuire had probable cause to arrest Leatherman for DUI. Deputy McGuire testified that Leatherman appeared to be under the influence of something, despite his observation that she was not driving erratically or weaving. Furthermore, Leatherman failed the HGN test, which reveals intoxication by alcohol or some other drug, although she later passed the breathalyzer test. Finally, the product information for Klonopin (Clonazepam) attached to Leatherman’s brief states that patients taking that medication “should be cautioned about operating hazardous machinery, including automobiles, until they are reasonably certain the Klonopin therapy does not affect them adversely.” Therefore, the observation of Leatherman’s glassy eyes and odd behavior coupled with her admission that she was taking prescription medication that included a warning about driving was sufficient to provide Deputy McGuire with probable cause to arrest her for DUI. Therefore, Deputy McGuire’s warrantless arrest of Leatherman did not deprive her of her constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure.

As we shall soon see, this conclusion is unsupported by the evidence and makes no sense.

The Court begins its analysis of the evidence by noting that the deputy

testified that Leatherman appeared to be under the influence of something, despite his observation that she was not driving erratically or weaving.

. So, the Court concedes that there was nothing improper about her driving and it does not say that she was unsteady on her feet, smelled of alcohol, or that she exhibited any mental confusion. In other words, she exhibited no physical or mental impairment.

The Court continued,

Furthermore, Leatherman failed the HGN test, which reveals intoxication by alcohol or some other drug, although she later passed the breathalyzer test.

So, in other words, she passed the breathalyzer test ruling out alcohol intoxication. (Actually it was a portable breath test, or PBT, that the deputy administered to her at the roadside before he handcuffed her and placed her in the back of his patrol vehicle.)

Therefore, with the exception of the HGN test result that I will discuss next, the Court has conceded that the deputy did not see any bad driving or physical evidence of alcohol or drug impairment.

What about the HGN?

HGN is an acronym for horizontal gaze nystagmus. The test was described recently by the Supreme Court of Illinois in People v. McKown, 924 N.E.2d 941 (2010):

Nystagmus is “an involuntary, rapid, rhythmic movement of the eyeball, which may be horizontal, vertical, rotatory, or mixed, i.e., of two varieties.” Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003). The medical dictionary lists 45 types of nystagmus. For example, ataxic nystagmus is unilateral and occurs in individuals with multiple sclerosis. Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003). Congenital nystagmus “may be caused by or associated with optic atrophy, coloboma, albinism, bilateral macular lesions, congenital cataract, severe astigmatism, and glaucoma.” Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003). Gaze nystagmus, which is at issue in the present case, is “made apparent by looking to the right or to the left,” as opposed to fixation nystagmus, “which appears only on gazing fixedly at an object,” or latent nystagmus, “which occurs only when one eye is covered.” Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003).

The methodology employed by law enforcement officers for conducting an HGN testing as a part of field-sobriety testing is explained in detail in our earlier opinion. In brief, the officer first questions the subject to determine whether he or she has any medical condition or is taking any medication that might affect the results of the test. If not, the officer performs a preliminary test to determine whether the pupils of the subject’s eyes are of equal size and whether the eyes “track” equally as an object is moved, at eye level, from side to side. If so, the HGN test itself is performed. The officer looks for three “clues,” assessing each eye separately. The three clues are lack of smooth pursuit, distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, and the onset of nystagmus at an angle less than 45 degrees. One point is assigned for each clue that is present in either eye. Thus, the maximum score is six, which would indicate all three clues present in both eyes. A score of four or more is considered “failing” and indicative of alcohol impairment. McKown I, 226 Ill.2d at 249-50.

After reviewing all of the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense relative to the HGN Test and whether it is generally accepted as an indicator of alcohol or drug impairment [the Frye test or standard for the admissibility of scientific evidence], the Supreme Court concluded,

1. HGN testing satisfies the Frye standard in Illinois.

2. HGN testing is but one facet of field sobriety testing and is admissible as a factor to be considered by the trier-of-fact on the issue of alcohol or drug impairment.

3. A proper foundation must include that the witness has been adequately trained, has conducted testing and assessment in accordance with the training, and that he administered the particular test in accordance with his training and proper procedures.

4. [Testimony regarding] HGN testing results should be limited to the conclusion that a “failed” test suggests that the subject may have consumed alcohol and may [have] be[en] under the influence. There should be no attempt to correlate the test results with any particular blood-alcohol level or range or level of intoxication.

5. In conjunction with other evidence, HGN may be used as a part of the police officer’s opinion that the subject [was] under the influence and impaired.” (Emphasis in original.)

(Emphasis supplied)

What exactly must a police officer do to properly administer the HGN test? The Illinois Supreme Court details the NHTSA procedure in its earlier decision remanding the McKown case to the trial court with instructions to conduct a Frye hearing. People v. McKown, 875 N.E.2d 1029, 1032 (2007):

Because alcohol consumption can cause nystagmus, police officers have been trained to check a person’s eye movements when attempting to determine if a driver has been driving while impaired by alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association’s (NHTSA) DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor Manual sets forth the procedure for administering an HGN test in the field. First, the officer is required to ask the subject if he or she wears contact lenses or has any medical impairment that would affect the test results or prohibit the subject from taking the test. If the subject claims to wear hard contacts, or have natural nystagmus or any other condition that may affect the test results, the officer should note the condition but still administer the test if possible. NHTSA DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor Manual, ch. VIII, at 6-18 (2002).

After these preliminary questions, the officer asks the subject to focus on an object, such as a pen, held just above eye level, about 12 to 15 inches from the subject’s nose, and to follow the object as the officer gradually moves it from side to side.

While conducting the test, the officer looks for six nystagmus “clues,” three in each eye, that, according to the NHTSA Manual, indicate impairment. If four or more clues are present, the subject is determined to have failed the test and be impaired. The clues are (1) lack of smooth pursuit; (2) distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, meaning any nystagmus exhibited when the eyeball is looking as far to the side as possible; and (3) angle of onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees, meaning any nystagmus that occurs before the object reaches a point that the officer determines to be 45 degrees from the center of the suspect’s face. No measuring apparatus is used in the 45-degree test. The officer is then instructed to have the subject perform the walk-and-turn field-sobriety test and the one-leg-stand field-sobriety test, compile the results of the three tests, and then make the decision whether to arrest the subject. NHTSA DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor Manual, ch. VIII, at 6-18 (2002).

How did Deputy McGuire administer the HGN test? This is how her lawyer described it in the brief she filed in the Court of Appeals:

McGuire should not have administered the test in the first place. McGuire did not testify to any clue Rachel Leatherman gave that she was impaired. She drove in compliance with traffic laws. She produced her license and registration quickly after he asked for them. Her eyes were not watery or bloodshot. Her pupils were not pinpoint or dilated. She was not scratching as some persons who inject drugs might. She did not have a runny nose as is common with some cocaine users. She did not have scabs or needle marks, also common with intravenous drug users. She was not coughing or short of breath; she was not sneezing or sweating. She did not complain of nausea or chest pains. Her face was not flushed. She was alert.

McGuire admitted at the suppression hearing that the HGN result by itself could not provide probable cause. Unfortunately, even assuming arguendo that other indicators had been present, McGuire improperly administered the test.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an administrative agency housed within the United States Department of Transportation. NHTSA oversees and regulates all matter related to traffic safety. Since 1977, NHTSA has studied various field sobriety tests in order to develop a standardized set of field sobriety tests. As a result of those tests, NHTSA warned police officers to position DUI suspects so that they do not face blinking cruiser lights or oncoming traffic because the lights can create a false nystagmus (optokinetic nystagmus). Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The Science and the Law, A Resource Guide for Judges, Prosecutors and Law Enforcement.

The field video shows that McGuire positioned Rachel Leatherman facing the blinking cruiser lights and the oncoming traffic. The test was neither administered properly nor documented [he never documented what he did and any of the angles when nystagmus occurred; he simply testified that “she failed all six clues”].

McGuire testified that Leatherman told him she had a prescription for Metoprolol because she had hypertension. Documentation for Metoprolol shows that a side effect can be nystagmus. Under those circumstances, McGuire finding “all six clues” should be found legally meaningless.

As if the Court had not even bothered to read her brief, it ignored her powerful and outcome dispositive legal argument without comment.

Instead, the Court focused on Clonazepam.

Finally, the product information for Klonopin (Clonazepam) attached to Leatherman’s brief states that patients taking that medication “should be cautioned about operating hazardous machinery, including automobiles, until they are reasonably certain the Klonopin therapy does not affect them adversely.”

Notice that the warning does not say that Clonazepam causes physical or mental impairment and no one who takes it in any dosage should ever operate hazardous machinery, including automobiles.

Clonazepam is a benzodiazepine that is routinely prescribed as an anti-seizure medication and to control anxiety. In other words, it is prescribed to make people feel normal so they can lead a normal life doing normal things like driving motor vehicles. The warning only applies to the initial dosage that can be adjusted if it’s too strong. There was no evidence in this case regarding the dosage or how long she had been taking it.

The Court’s refusal to mention, discuss, or distinguish her argument regarding the legally invalid HGN test and its reliance on a misinterpretation of the warning on the product insert for Clonazepam borders on mendacity.

The Court of Appeals concluded,

Therefore, the observation of Leatherman’s glassy eyes and odd behavior coupled with her admission that she was taking prescription medication that included a warning about driving was sufficient to provide Deputy McGuire with probable cause to arrest her for DUI.

Well, excuse me. Odd behavior. What odd behavior? Deputy McGuire testified at the suppression hearing that he did not witness any odd behavior, or he would have noted it in his report. There was no reference to any odd behavior in his report and he was the only witness at the suppression hearing.

Apparently, operating a motor vehicle in full compliance with all traffic laws without speeding, weaving or swerving, and quickly pulling over and stopping in the emergency lane beside the road when signaled to do so by a police officer in a marked police vehicle constitutes probable cause to arrest in Kentucky.

As we like to say in the blogosphere, the Court of Appeals has some splainin’ to do.

Author’s note: People v. McKown is an Illinois Supreme Court case and not binding legal precedent in Kentucky. I used it because it is well written and it lays out the NHTSA procedure for conducting the HGN that Crane-Station’s lawyer included with her brief, together with the NHTSA publication that explicitly warns law enforcement officers not to position suspects facing police cruiser lights and oncoming traffic. See: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The Science and the Law, A Resource Guide for Judges, Prosecutors and Law Enforcement. Kentucky follows the same rule, but the opinion is not recent and not well written.

Cross posted from my new law blog: http://frederickleatherman.wordpress.com