8/26/2016Appellate Court Rules Colorado Plates Not Suspicious
Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals slams Kansas cops for pulling over motorists with Colorado Plates.
Federal judges on Tuesday slammed Kansas police officers for pulling over motorists from Colorado solely because that state legalized marijuana. The Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals came to that conclusion after reviewing the conduct of Kansas Highway Patrol Officers Richard Jimerson and Dax Lewis.
On the night of December 11, 2011, the officers stopped the 1992 BMW sedan belonging to Peter L. Vasquez, a Colorado resident who at the time was passing through Wabaunsee County on Interstate 70. Vasquez committed no violations, but the officer became suspicious when he saw the used BMW had a valid temporary tag from Colorado in the rear window. He signaled Vasquez to pull over.
During the roadside questioning, Vasquez told the officer that he was moving to Maryland. He had a pillow in the back seat and various items were covered by blankets. When Vasquez refused to allow his car to be searched, the officers decided to use a drug dog to search the car anyway.
Unlike most court cases of this sort, no drugs were found. Vasquez was really moving, but he did not let it go. He decided instead to sue the officers for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. A lower court rejected the suit, but the three-judge panel reversed, finding the officers guilty of a constitutional violation.
The court was disturbed by the way the officers justified the stop after the fact by claiming Vasquez was "nervous" and that he provided inconsistent answers to their questions about where he was headed and what he was doing on the freeway late at night.
"On reviewing the record, which contains a video recording of the interactions between the officers and Vasquez, we cannot find anything even arguably inconsistent in Vasquez's answers," Judge Carlos F. Lucero wrote for the appellate majority.
The primary reason for the initial stop was the temporary Colorado tag. The Kansas officers said the state was a known home to medical marijuana dispensaries, which raised suspicion. The panel majority slammed this line of reasoning as entirely unacceptable.
"Currently, twenty-five states permit marijuana use for medical purposes, with Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, DC permitting some recreational use under state law," Judge Lucero wrote. "Thus, the officer's reasoning would justify the search and seizure of the citizens of more than half of the states in our country... Accordingly, it is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate."
The appellate court also noted with disapproval that Officer Jimerson failed to learn his lesson after the Tenth Circuit had admonished him for a nearly identical, unlawful traffic stop.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.