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State ex rel. Geary County Sheriff's Department v. One 2008 Toyota Tundra

Court of Appeals of Kansas

February 23, 2018

State of Kansas, ex rel., Geary County Sheriff's Department, Appellant,
One 2008 Toyota Tundra, VIN: 5TBBV54158S517709; $84, 820.00 in U.S. Currency, more or less; and Approximately 11.9 Grams of Marijuana, Defendants, and Ryan P. Boyle, Appellee.


         1. Although forfeiture actions are civil in nature, the protections against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights are applicable. Therefore, the constitutional exclusionary rule applies to forfeiture proceedings.

         2. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend IV. Section 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights provides the same protection from unlawful government searches and seizures as the Fourth Amendment.

          3. A traffic stop is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. For the traffic stop to be constitutionally reasonable, the officer must know of specific and articulable facts that create a reasonable suspicion the seized individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime or traffic infraction.

         4. A traffic stop seizure that is justified at its inception can become illegal if the officer unreasonably prolongs the duration of the stop beyond its mission. While law enforcement does not extend the duration of a stop by asking questions related to its purpose, questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop are permitted so long as an officer's inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.

         5. A routine traffic stop is a relatively brief encounter, and the tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure's "mission"-to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop and attend to related safety concerns. Because addressing the infraction is the purpose of the stop, it may last no longer than is necessary to effectuate that purpose. Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are-or reasonably should have been-completed.

         6. On-scene investigation into other crimes detours from the mission of the traffic stop. So too do safety precautions taken in order to facilitate such detours. While an officer may conduct certain investigations unrelated to the traffic violation, the officer may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.

          7. The time permitted to complete the mission or investigation of a traffic violation includes precautions taken to promote officer safety and ordinary inquiries incident to the traffic stop. Ordinary inquiries incident to a traffic stop expressly and typically include checking the driver's license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile's registration and proof of insurance. These checks serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.

         8. Because traffic stops are especially fraught with danger to police officers, the time needed to complete the mission of investigating the traffic infraction may require an officer to take certain negligibly burdensome precautions in order to complete his or her mission safely. Given this danger, detaining a motorist for a short period so that law enforcement may check for any outstanding warrants or criminal history, even though the purpose of the stop had nothing to do with such prior criminal history, may be justified for officer safety.

         9. Under the facts of this case, the officer's request of dispatch to conduct a criminal history check of the driver unreasonably prolonged the stop as the tasks associated with the stop had been completed at the time of the request. Moreover, any safety concerns associated with the stop no longer existed at the time the officer's request was made.

         Appeal from Geary District Court; Benjamin J. Sexton, judge. Affirmed.

          Colin Wood, special prosecutor, for appellant.

          Jeremiah L. Platt, of Clark & Platt, Chtd., of Manhattan, for appellee.

          Before Powell, P.J., Standridge, J., and Stutzman, S.J.

          Powell, J.

         A sergeant in the Geary County Sheriff's Department stopped a 2008 Toyota Tundra driven by Jordan Stephens, with Ryan Boyle as a passenger, on Interstate 70 because the license plate on the vehicle was partially obstructed. During the stop, the sergeant's K-9 conducted a dog sniff of the pickup truck and alerted to the presence of drugs. Ultimately, the truck, a large amount of currency, and nearly 12 grams of marijuana were seized. The State of Kansas brought a civil forfeiture action against the seized property, but the district court granted Boyle's motion to suppress this evidence after finding that the sergeant unreasonably prolonged the stop beyond its original purpose by requesting a criminal history check on Stephens, thus giving the sergeant's K-9 time to perform the dog sniff. The State now appeals the district court's granting of the suppression motion. Because we agree with the district court, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In March 2016, the State of Kansas on behalf of the Geary County Sheriff's Department commenced a civil asset forfeiture action for property allegedly seized in violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act pursuant to K.S.A. 60-4101 et seq. The property subject to forfeiture includes a 2008 Toyota Tundra pickup truck, $84, 820 in U.S. currency, and approximately 11.9 grams of marijuana. The petition for forfeiture filed in June 2016 gave notice to two parties whom the State asserted may have an ownership interest in the property: Jordan Stephens and Ryan Boyle.

         Three weeks later, Boyle filed an answer to the State's forfeiture petition claiming an ownership interest in the seized truck and the $84, 820. In relevant part, Boyle claimed the property was exempt and not subject to forfeiture because it was unconstitutionally seized in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Subsequently, Boyle filed a motion to suppress, arguing that Geary County Sheriff's Sergeant Christopher Ricard impermissibly extended the duration of the traffic stop for an obstructed license plate by ordering a criminal history check on Stephens, after Ricard's in-car computer check confirmed that Stephens had a valid driver's license, that he was not wanted and had no warrants against him, and that the truck was properly insured and ...

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