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State v. Jimenez

Supreme Court of Kansas

June 22, 2018

State of Kansas, Appellant,
v.
Jessenia Jimenez, Appellee.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. A routine traffic stop is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Usually this encounter begins when the vehicle is pulled over and ends when the law enforcement officer has no further need to control the scene and tells the occupants they are free to leave.

         2. Traffic stops cannot be measurably extended beyond the time necessary to process the infraction that prompted the stop unless there is a reasonable suspicion of or probable cause to believe there is other criminal activity, or consent.

         3. Beyond simply determining whether to issue a citation, a law enforcement officer's mission in a traffic stop typically includes ordinary inquiries for: (i) checking the driver's license; (ii) determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver; and (iii) inspecting the automobile's registration and proof of insurance. The officer may also take negligibly burdensome precautions for officer safety. Information gathering must be limited to the infraction prompting the stop or those matters directly related to traffic code enforcement, i.e., ensuring vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.

         4. While a driver is being detained for a routine traffic stop, a law enforcement officer may not conduct questioning unrelated to the officer's mission if it measurably extends the stop-absent probable cause or the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.

         5. A law enforcement officer need not disregard information that may lead the officer to suspect other criminal activity during a traffic stop. When the detainee's responses and circumstances lead to suspicions unrelated to the traffic offense, an officer may broaden the inquiry and satisfy those suspicions.

         6. Travel plan questioning is not always within a traffic stop's scope. The circumstances will dictate that. To fall within the stop's scope, such questions must have a close connection to the initial infraction under investigation or to roadway safety, i.e., ensuring vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly. Otherwise, they may be pursued by law enforcement only at the same time as the officer is completing the tasks appropriate for processing the initial infraction. Questioning outside the stop's scope may not measurably extend the stop's duration absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause to independently support the added detention.

          Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed February 24, 2017.

          Appeal from Geary District Court; Maritza Segarra, judge. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversing the district court is reversed. Judgment of the district court is affirmed and the case remanded.

          Tony R. Cruz, assistant county attorney, argued the cause, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, was with him on the brief for appellant.

          Kasper Schirer, assistant public defender, of Junction City, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          BILES, J.

         When a police officer stops a vehicle for a traffic infraction, a seizure occurs under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution while the officer addresses the reason for the stop. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-10, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996); City of Atwood v. Pianalto, 301 Kan. 1008, 1011, 350 P.3d 1048 (2015). Usually such encounters begin when the vehicle is pulled over and end when the officer has no further need to control the scene and tells the occupants they are free to leave. Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333, 129 S.Ct. 781, 172 L.Ed.2d 694 (2009). The time in-between is temptingly seen as a bountiful opportunity for unrelated criminal investigation, especially drug enforcement. The complication is the Fourth Amendment.

         Traffic stops must not be measurably extended beyond what is necessary to process the infraction prompting the stop, unless there is reasonable suspicion of or probable cause to believe there is other criminal activity, or consent. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615, 191 L.Ed.2d 492 (2015). To better define nonconsensual police-citizen encounters, the Rodriguez Court explained that beyond simply determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer's "mission" typically includes ordinary inquiries for: (1) checking the driver's license; (2) determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver; and (3) inspecting the automobile's registration and proof of insurance. The officer may also take "negligibly burdensome precautions" to complete the stop safely. But on-scene investigation into other crimes diverts from that mission and cannot become a permissible de minimis intrusion. 135 S.Ct. at 1615-16 ("Highway and officer safety are interests different in kind from the Government's endeavor to detect crime in general or drug trafficking in particular.").

         In the current case, we consider the State's argument that "travel plan" questioning never unconstitutionally extends a traffic stop. The State contends this is always part of the officer's mission. But it is not that simple. Circumstances matter.

         To qualify as a task necessary to process the initial stop, information gathering must be limited to the infraction prompting the stop or those other matters directly related to traffic code enforcement, i.e., "ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly." 135 S.Ct. at 1615. Stated differently, some inquiries other than those listed as typical in Rodriguez may be necessary to ascertain whether vehicles are being operated safely and responsibly. But this necessity cannot translate into a bright-line rule permitting unbridled "travel plan" questioning that unconstitutionally extends these side-of-the-road detentions.

         Under the facts presented, we hold the officer's detailed questions into travel plans, which delayed processing the driver's license and outstanding warrants inquiries, measurably extended the stop's duration and were not justified by any reasonable suspicion of or probable cause to believe there was other criminal activity. The district court correctly suppressed the evidence resulting from this unconstitutional detention.

         We reverse the Court of Appeals, which came to the opposite conclusion by adopting a broader approach to travel plan questioning. See State v. Jimenez, No. 116, 250, 2017 WL 758139 (Kan. App. 2017) (unpublished opinion). We remand the case to the district court for further proceedings.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The facts are undisputed. On January 11, 2016, Junction City Police Officer Nicholas Blake was on duty with his certified dog. He performed a traffic stop on a vehicle driven by Jessenia Jimenez after seeing her follow another vehicle too closely. Her black Ford Mustang had one passenger, Pablo Payeras. The officer had trouble communicating because they spoke little English, so he used hand gestures. They provided their driver's licenses and the automobile's rental agreement, which was in the glove box. Blake noticed the glove box contained money bundled in a rubber band. The rental documents showed the vehicle was picked up on January 9 in Las Vegas and due back January 14 at the same location. The officer asked Jimenez to accompany him to his patrol vehicle and said he likely would only issue a warning citation. She complied.

         Once inside the police car, Blake used a smartphone application to question Jimenez because of the language barrier. He spoke into the phone, which translated what he said and vice versa. Blake asked where she was coming from, where she was heading, the trip's purpose, where she had slept recently, and with whom she had visited and for how long. She first answered she was coming from Utah and then changed to Colorado. She said her purpose was to visit her aunt. She said she spent one night with her aunt and slept on the road and stayed in a motel. Much of this back and forth had to be repeated due to background noise and imperfections in the translation technology.

         About five minutes and 34 seconds passed between the vehicle stop and Blake calling the driver's license information into his dispatch. He also requested warrant checks and criminal history reports for Jimenez and Payeras. Shortly thereafter, Blake deployed his police dog to perform a sniff around the car. The dog alerted six minutes and 49 seconds after the stop began. Blake returned to Jimenez and asked whether there were drugs in the car; she responded no. He asked if she had any large amounts of currency; she answered $8, 000 from her aunt to pay rent.

         Blake and two other officers searched the automobile. They discovered no drugs, but found three currency bundles: the one in the glove box, another in Payeras' wallet, and the third where the convertible roof retracts into the trunk. The cash totaled about $50, 000. The State charged Jimenez with criminal transportation of drug proceeds and, in the alternative, criminal transfer of drug proceeds. See K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 21-5716(b), (c).

         The district court suppression order

         Before trial, Jimenez moved to suppress the traffic stop evidence, advancing three arguments: (1) there was no reasonable suspicion to pull the vehicle over; (2) Blake measurably extended the stop by asking travel plan questions before processing the driver's license and warrant information; and (3) any statements she gave violated Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d ...


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