Wednesday, April 27, 2011

KHP Trooper discredited

Kevin A. Luibrand and Timothy E. Austin (New York attorneys) won in U.S. v. Murphy and Webster, No. 8:10-CR-312 (N. Dist. N.Y. April 19, 2011) obtaining suppression of evidence and statements in a federal drug conspiracy trial that involved a stop by a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper on I-70 near Alma. I have driven by this ruse several times on the way to and from Salina. Officers place signs that say "Drug Checkpoint Ahead" and "Drug Dogs in Use Ahead" near an exit on I-70 that essentially leads to nowhere (just a ranch and some back roads). The assumption is that persons seeing the signs who have drugs will get off at the exit, so officers lie in wait.

The trooper in this case testified that he saw the subject car fail to signal the lane change when the car exited. But the federal district judge, after reviewing the Government's evidence and evidence produced by the defendants in detail, held that such an observation was not possible:

Based on the findings of fact above, Trooper Stahl’s testimony that he observed Webster commit a traffic violation is not credited and the Government has offered no other objectively reasonable basis to justify the stop. As a result, the stop is unconstitutional.

The Government tried to show how other facts discovered after the stop justified detention, but the judge held that any such discovery was tainted by the initial illegal stop and not sufficiently attenuated to independently justify the detention. As a result, the judge suppressed the evidence.

I wonder how common it is for police officers to just make up facts (like failure to signal or bad tag light)? In any case, this case shows how little it takes to really invade a person's privacy in the name of the war on drugs.

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