Checking Warrants are within the Scope of Public Safety Stops

State v. McKenna, No. 119,431 (Kan. Ct. App. Jan. 31, 2020).

Issue: Is an officer asking for a person’s name and subsequently checking that name for local warrants within the scope of a public safety stop?

Answer: Yes, so long as there are objective, specific, and articulable facts suggesting peril and so long as the officer’s actions are reasonable given the circumstances.

Facts: Officer Styles found Tia McKenna slumped over her driver seat in a residential area at two in the morning, where she was legally parked with her window open. Shining a flashlight, knocking on the car’s roof, and calling for the woman all failed to wake her. After more prompting, Styles ascertained McKenna’s name. Styles then requested dispatch to determine if McKenna had any local warrants out for her arrest. During this time, Styles did not take nor hold on to any documents or items belonging to McKenna. Styles testified he believed McKenna was intoxicated and intended to drive McKenna home, but wanted to ensure she was not a violent criminal who posed a risk to Styles’ safety. There was a local warrant and McKenna was arrested.

Discussion: McKenna argued Styles violated the scope of a public safety stop when Styles ran McKenna’s name for warrants. The safety stop itself met the Kansas three-part test used to determine a legal public safety stop. There were objective, specific, and articulable facts suggesting peril; the officer took appropriate action given the facts; and no assurance had been provided that the peril was averted. Gathering basic information during a stop has repeatedly been upheld in this court, but officers might exceed what is permissible. If the officer forces an answer, demands and answer, or retains documents belonging to the citizen, then the officer has likely seized the citizen without proper justification. Finally, running a local, rather than an interstate, warrant check reflects a reasonable safety precaution.

Key Authorities:

U.S. Const. Amend. IV.

State v. Gonzales, 141 P.3d 501 (Kan. Ct. App. 2006).

State v. Weaver, No. 119,956, 2019 WL 2147678 (Kan. Ct. App. May 17, 2019).

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