Friday, August 12, 2011

Traffic stop illegally extended

Washburn student intern (and now Houston-area prosecutor), Sean Whittmore and I won in State v. Coleman, No. 101,621 (Kan. Aug. 12, 2011), reversing a Reno County possession conviction. The case involved a traffic stop of a parollee between Wichita and Hutchinson. The police officer discovered that Mr. Coleman was driving a rental car but the rental agreement had expired a couple of days prior. The officer also had unspecified information that officers were "aware of information" that Mr. Coleman, a parollee, was involved in drug trafficking.

The KSC agreed that the traffic stop itself was valid and that, based on the rental agreement, Mr. Coleman's parole status, and the unspecified reports of drug trafficking, officers had a basis for a temporary detention for further investigation. But the KSC went on to analyze the duration of the stop:

Because, as we determined earlier, Deputy Tatro had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that would allow him to expand the scope of his original stop, the limitation that the Kansas Department of Corrections self-imposed would not have prevented a detention for a reasonable time for a search within the scope of the initial stop. Tatro did not, however, conduct an immediate search; he instead detained Coleman for at least 35 minutes while he waited for backup officers and, eventually, a parole officer to arrive.

A traffic stop may not exceed the duration necessary to carry out the purpose of the stop. In order to justify a detention for questioning, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is engaging in or has committed a serious crime and must have a reasonable basis for extending the duration of the detention. Detaining a driver for even a few minutes in order to allow a drug-sniffing dog to arrive unreasonably extends the detention when the officer did not need additional time to ask exploratory questions or to write a traffic citation.

In the present case, Deputy Tatro detained Coleman for the sole purpose of providing a parole officer with enough time to arrive and conduct a search under the Kansas Department of Corrections' rules. It is undisputed that Tatro did not have a written arrest and detain order, and the State does not contend that Tatro needed the extended time in order to write a ticket or to verify Coleman's license or parole status.

. . . .

Deputy Tatro did not have the statutory authority to arrest Coleman as a parole violator. Tatro had no grounds to arrest Coleman for any other reason prior to the parole officer conducting the search that turned up the incriminating evidence. Quite simply put, Tatro had no reasonable and legal basis for detaining Coleman while the officers waited for the parole officer to arrive at the scene. An officer may not arbitrarily detain a driver in order to procure a drug-sniffing dog, and an officer may not arbitrarily detain a driver in order to obtain the presence of a parole officer.

As a result, the evidence should be suppressed.

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