June 26th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Henning (No. 98,118) a Fourth Amendment unreasonable search case. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court held that the Kansas Law which allowed police to search vehicles of arrestees for evidence related to ‘a’ crime is unconstitutional. In doing so it applied the recent United States Supreme Court decision of Arizona v. Gant.
Randy Henning had a warrant out for his arrest. Lyon County Deputy Sheriff Patrick Stevenson noticed him and arrested him when he went to his car. After the arrest, Stevenson searched the car and found drug paraphernalia. Henning and Kelly Zabriskie (who had been in the driving seat of the car) were arrested for possession. Defence Counsel moved to suppress the drug evidence, but its presence was upheld.
Kansas Law had previously stated that in a search incident to arrest one of the reasons for searching the area immediately surrounding the arrestee would be ‘Discovering the fruits, instrumentalities, or evidence of the crime’. In a 1996 decision, the Kansas Supreme Court had held in State v. Anderson, that the word ‘the’ in that sentence meant that the State could not introduce evidence that was found that was unrelated to the crime that was the reason for the search. In 2006 the Legislature reworded the law to use the word ‘a’ instead of ‘the’.
The Kansas Supreme Court held that this change had the effect of altering the Statute so that the police would be authorized to search for evidence of any crime. This law had taken effect five days before Stevenson searched the car.
The Court then analyzed the law under the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision Arizona v. Gant. In that case that Court held that police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. Applying Gant to this case, meant that the Court concluded that the statute was unconstitutional since it authorized searches outside of those narrow limits.
Opinion: While we believe the decision in this case was correct, in ruling this way the Court delved into legislative history to prove what the Legislature intended to do when it replaced ‘the’ with ‘a’. This strikes us as unnecessary as contrary to the Court’s opinion, the Legislature’s intent was apparent from the plain words of the change. We will therefore watch for the circumstances in which this case is cited supporting the use of legislative history.