Saying extended traffic stop that led to 180 pounds of pot was not justified, Court of Appeals overturns Coffey County drug conviction Featured

Saying extended traffic stop that led to 180 pounds of pot was not justified, Court of Appeals overturns Coffey County drug conviction Kansas Court of Appeals photo

The Kansas Court of Appeals has overturned a Coffey County conviction after a traffic stop led to a large seizure of marijuana two years ago.

Friday's action by the Court of Appeals panel followed sentencing last year of 46-year-old Luis Saul Gonzalez after his arrest in February 2017. The case started when a Highway Patrol trooper noticed an SUV going slightly above the speed limit on Interstate 35 and eventually pulled the vehicle over. Gonzalez told the trooper he was on the way from California to Kansas City, Kansas, to visit family. Gonzalez was initially given a warning but was asked to answer a few more questions before the SUV was searched. Gonzalez told authorities a stranger offered him $7,000 to drive the bags to the Legends Shopping Center. Shortly after that, troopers say they found over 180 pounds of marijuana in eight duffle bags.

Gonzalez was charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 30 kilograms of marijuana along with a count of possession with drug paraphernalia. He pleaded not guilty, saying the traffic stop was unlawfully extended or reinitiated and he was unlawfully stopped based on his race and bias-based policing methods. Both motions were denied and Gonzalez was convicted.

The Court of Appeals said authorities can do four things during a routine traffic stop: request driver's license and vehicle registration, run a computer record check, issue a citation if needed and "take steps reasonably necessary to protect the officer's safety." After that, authorities have to let the driver proceed without further delay for additional questioning. To justify a longer traffic stop, specifically for questioning or investigation, the Court of Appeals said law enforcement needs to say why they believe they have stopped the person for suspected criminal activity.

In this case, the Court of Appeals said there was no legal justification for detaining Gonzalez after the traffic stop ended -- and without the legal justification, the evidence seized during the secondary stop should have been suppressed.

The case now goes back to Coffey County District Court for new proceedings. The ruling also calls into question the future of the so-called "Kansas Two Step," where authorities end a traffic stop but try to start a consensual discussion for a variety of reasons afterward. The Court of Appeals panel says the Kansas Two Step was used during the Gonzalez stop.

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