Officer who stuck foot under garage door overstepped Constitution, court says

When a police officer stuck her foot under a Lawrence man’s closing garage door, triggering it to open, she also stepped over the protective boundary of the U.S. Constitution, the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled Friday

In a case affirming the court’s stance concerning the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the court ruled that evidence subsequently gathered against the man was illegally obtained.

The “relatively mundane facts” of the case — the man was a suspect in a minor-injury hit-and-run traffic crash — “belie the magnitude of the constitutional right and the significance of the constitutional issue,” the court wrote.

On Sept. 19, 2009, the officer saw an SUV matching the description of one that had driven away after striking another vehicle in downtown Lawrence. The officer followed the vehicle until it turned into a driveway. Only after the driver pulled into the garage did the officer turn on her patrol car’s lights.

As the garage door was closing, she placed her foot under it and then went inside, where she contacted the driver. The man was later charged and convicted of DUI and related traffic offenses.

Evidence obtained after entering the man’s garage without a warrant should have been suppressed by the trial court judge, the appeals court said Friday.

“The United States Constitution draws a line at the threshold of a person’s home over which law enforcement officers may not step without a warrant from a judge or exigent circumstances so compelling as to override that fundamental right,” the court’s opinion states.

No circumstances such as “hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect” or ensuring the safety of officers were present in the case, according to the opinion.

“The Fourth Amendment has not yet fallen into such disrepair that it no longer serves that fundamental purpose in a case such as this,” the court wrote.