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State v. Miller

Court of Appeals of Kansas

September 13, 2013

STATE of Kansas, Appellant,
v.
Heather K. MILLER, Appellee.

Page 25

Syllabus by the Court

1. An officer can make a traffic stop when the officer knows of specific and articulable facts— facts that can be clearly expressed— that create a reasonable suspicion that a person has violated a traffic law.

2. An officer's reasonable suspicion may be based on a reasonable mistake about the underlying facts, but an officer may not rely upon a mistaken understanding of the law to provide reasonable suspicion.

3. On the facts of this case, one officer reasonably believed that other officers were

Page 26

still blocking a highway entrance so that drivers would not approach an accident scene. Actually, the other officers had left their post briefly and a driver had then entered the highway. Even so, the officer reasonably believed that the other officers were still blocking the entrance, so the officer who stopped the driver had reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver had disobeyed lawful traffic-control directives, which is a traffic infraction. Thus, the officer's traffic stop of the vehicle was lawfully based upon reasonable suspicion that the driver had committed a traffic infraction.

4. Under a rule known as the collective-knowledge doctrine or the fellow-officer rule, the knowledge of one officer may sometimes be imputed to— or assumed to be known by— another officer when determining whether an officer had reasonable suspicion in a situation. Imputation of knowledge in such cases is based upon the existence of at least some communication of information between the officers. Here, there was no communication between the officers who left the roadblock and the officer who made the traffic stop about the circumstances leading to that stop; thus the collective-knowledge doctrine cannot be applied to impute the knowledge that the other officers had left their post to the officer who made the traffic stop.

Alex Scott, assistant district attorney, Shawn E. Minihan, assistant district attorney, Stephen M. Howe, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellant.

Adrian T. Gilby, of Overland Park, for appellee.

Before BRUNS, P.J., PIERRON and LEBEN, JJ.

LEBEN, J.

In the early morning hours of November 2, 2011, debris from a two-car accident on I-35 in Lenexa caused authorities to shut the interstate to traffic. While Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Nicholas Wright was working the accident, a car driven by Heather Miller came toward him— it was the only car on a roadway that Wright thought was still closed to vehicle traffic. So he stopped Miller for the apparent violation of a state law requiring drivers to comply with traffic-control directions.

It turned out that the officers who Wright thought were still blocking the roadway had been diverted briefly to another spot, and Miller simply drove onto the interstate without disregarding any officers, emergency flares, or traffic cones. Unfortunately for her, once the trooper stopped her car, he quickly suspected she was under the influence of alcohol— a suspicion that was confirmed through field-sobriety testing and an evidentiary breath test.

Miller argued in the district court that the evidence against her should be suppressed because she had done nothing wrong by driving onto the scene, thus she shouldn't have been stopped in the first place. The district court agreed. Though the court said the officer was " honestly mistaken" and showed no bad faith in stopping Miller, the court concluded that the officer nonetheless was mistaken and shouldn't have made the stop. The ...


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