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Kansas Supreme Court Holds Travel Plan Questions Unconstitutionally Extended Traffic Stop

by Matt Clarke

The Supreme Court of Kansas held that a police officer unconstitutionally extended the traffic stop he had made for following too closely when he asked questions about the driver’s travel plans for four-and-a-half minutes before requesting warrant information and criminal history checks. This required the suppression of $50,000 in cash found in the vehicle.

Jessenia Jimenez was driving a rented car in Kansas when she was stopped by Junction City Police Officer Nicholas Blake for following another vehicle too closely. Jimenez and her passenger, Pablo Payeras, spoke little English but produced their driver’s licenses and retrieved a car rental agreement out of a glove box containing cash bundles bound by rubber bands. Blake had Jimenez accompany him to his patrol car where he used a smartphone translation app to question her for over four minutes about her travel plans. Then he called in the driver’s license information and requested a warrant and criminal history checks for Jimenez and Payeras.

Blake had a drug dog in his patrol car that he deployed around the rental car. It alerted. Upon questioning, Jimenez denied having drugs or large amounts of cash in the car other than $8,000 in rent money. A search of the car turned up no drugs, but $50,000 was found in Payera’s wallet, the glove box, and the convertible top recess. Jimenez was charged with criminal transportation of drug proceeds and, in the alternative, criminal transfer of drug proceeds.

Jimenez filed a motion to suppress the evidence, alleging Blake impermissibly extended the traffic stop by asking nearly a dozen questions about Jimenez’s travel plans. During a hearing, Blake admitted the questions were unrelated to the traffic infraction that precipitated the stop. The trial court granted the motion, ruling Blake unconstitutionally extended the traffic stop before he “ran the dog around the car.” The State filed an interlocutory appeal.

The court of appeals reversed, holding questions about travel plans are always permissible during a traffic stop. Jimenez petitioned for review.

The Kansas Supreme Court rejected the State’s blanket assertion that “travel plan” questioning never unconstitutionally extends a traffic stop. The Court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had recently held that a traffic stop may not be measurably extended beyond what is necessary to process the infraction prompting the stop absent consent or reasonable suspicion to believe there is other criminal activity. Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015).

The Rodriguez Court noted that an officer’s “mission” during a traffic stop typically includes: inspecting the driver’s license, running a warrant check, and inspecting the vehicle’s registration and proof of insurance. “The officer may also take ‘negligibly burdensome precautions’ to complete the stop safely.’ But may not engage in “mission creep,” extending the stop to engage in a fishing expedition hoping to find evidence of other crimes. Id.

The Kansas Supreme Court noted that a routine traffic stop is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment and somewhat analogous to a Terry stop. Such seizures become unlawful if prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission. Such a “traffic stop extension without reasonable suspicion or consent—even by a de minimus length of time—amounts to an unreasonable seizure when the delay is based on anything but the articulated components of the stop’s mission.”

In the present case, Officer Blake admitted that his travel plan questioning had nothing to do with the traffic violation that prompted the traffic stop. He also conceded that the questions were unnecessary for him to write the traffic ticket. And he acknowledged that he conducted the questioning before calling in the driver’s licenses and warrant checks. Under these facts, the Court concluded that Blake impermissibly extended the traffic stop by engaging in a line of questioning that had nothing to do with the traffic infraction or the mission of the traffic stop.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals, affirmed the district court’s decision to suppress the evidence, and remanded for further proceedings. State v. Jimenez, 420 P.3d 464 (Kan. 2018). 

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