A Kansas Court of Appeals panel has ruled a Lawrence police officer overstepped the bounds of the Fourth Amendment when she stuck her foot under a garage door to confront and later arrest a suspect in his home in 2009.
The judges released their opinion Friday in the appeal of Troy E. Dugan’s DUI and traffic-related convictions, saying Officer Laurie Scott should have applied for a warrant the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2009, instead of placing her foot under Dugan’s closing garage door.
It tripped a safety mechanism causing the door to open, and Scott began investigating Dugan.
The appellate judges also ruled Douglas County Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild erred in denying a motion by Dugan’s defense attorney to suppress evidence Scott obtained after she stuck her foot under the garage door.
“Although the question might be closer than some, we do not share the district court’s tolerance for the governmental breach of a private residence and, therefore, reverse that ruling with directions the motion be granted,” the judges wrote in their opinion released Friday.
Scott was following Dugan’s sport-utility vehicle after a dispatcher put out his description, tag number, name and address following a rear-end collision earlier near downtown. Dugan was accused of leaving the scene of the crash in which no one was taken to the hospital.
Scott found an SUV matching that description and followed it until Dugan pulled into a driveway, activated an automatic garage door and pulled inside. Scott turned on her patrol car’s emergency lights in the driveway, and later got out of the car and placed her foot under the door.
The appellate judges ruled it did not qualify as a “hot pursuit,” which would have permitted Scott to enter the home without a warrant. She had not engaged emergency equipment while following the vehicle and “saw nothing suggesting any traffic violations” as she followed him.
According to the opinion, when officers interacted with him in the garage, they determined Dugan “displayed signs of intoxication.” He told officers he was involved in a rear-end collision earlier and admitted having “several beers.” He did poorly on field sobriety tests, but refused to take a breath test. After denying the motion to suppress, Fairchild eventually convicted him of felony DUI — because he had three prior convictions — and other misdemeanor traffic infractions.
But the appellate panel ordered that motion to suppress ruling be reversed and the case be sent back to the district court.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“A citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights do not rise or fall on the schedules of government agents or their predilections for expediency,” the opinion states. “The framers intended judicially issued warrants as a check on just those inclinations and to preserve for the citizenry a sphere of privacy in their own homes against undue government intrusion. The Fourth Amendment has not yet fallen into such disrepair that it no longer serves that fundamental purpose in a case such as this.”
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said Friday prosecutors were still reviewing the opinion and deciding how to proceed, including a possible appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.