the material facts supporting the district court's
decision on a motion to suppress evidence are not in dispute,
the ultimate question of whether to suppress is a question of
law over which an appellate court has unlimited review.
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects
citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. A traffic
stop is considered a seizure of the driver of the vehicle. To
legally perform a traffic stop, a law enforcement officer
must have a reasonable suspicion, requiring specific and
articulable facts, that the driver committed or is about to
commit a crime or traffic infraction. A traffic infraction is
an objectively valid reason to effectuate a traffic stop.
law enforcement officer's objectively reasonable mistake
of law by itself does not invalidate a traffic stop provided
that the officer otherwise has reasonable suspicion for the
stop under the totality of the circumstances.
Interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which
appellate courts have unlimited review.
most fundamental rule of statutory construction is that the
intent of the Legislature governs if that intent can be
ascertained. An appellate court must first attempt to
ascertain legislative intent through the statutory language
enacted, giving common words their ordinary meanings. When a
statute is plain and unambiguous, an appellate court should
not speculate about the legislative intent behind that clear
language, and it should refrain from reading something into
the statute that is not readily found in its words. Only if
the statute's language or text is unclear or ambiguous
does the court use canons of construction or legislative
history to construe the Legislature's intent.
construing statutes to determine legislative intent,
appellate courts must consider various provisions of the act
in pari materia with a view of reconciling and
bringing the provisions into workable harmony, if possible.
Courts must interpret a statute in a way that makes it
constitutional if any reasonable construction would maintain
the Legislature's apparent intent.
K.S.A. 8-1759a authorizes a Kansas highway patrol trooper to
stop a vehicle for inspection and to issue a written notice
of defect to the driver if the vehicle is in unsafe condition
or if any required equipment is missing or is not in proper
repair or adjustment.
from Sumner District Court; R. Scott McQuin, judge.
Spencer, assistant county attorney, and Derek Schmidt,
attorney general, for appellant.
Ryan Gering, of Hulnick, Stang, Gering & Leavitt, P.A.,
of Wichita, for appellee.
Standridge, P.J., Malone, J., and Stutzman, S.J.
State appeals the district court's decision granting
Aaron Matthew Lees' motion to suppress. The district
court found that a Kansas highway patrol trooper had no legal
grounds to stop Lees' vehicle for a brake light violation
because the vehicle's brake lights complied with Kansas
law. The State claims the trooper's mistake of law about
the brake light violation, if he made one, was objectively
reasonable, so the mistake did not invalidate the traffic
stop. The State also claims the traffic stop was lawful under
the trooper's inspection power as authorized in K.S.A.
8-1759a. For the reasons stated below, we reject the
State's claims and affirm the district court's
and Procedural Background
10, 2017, around 11:13 p.m., Lees was leaving the Kansas Star
Casino in Sumner County. Lees was driving and he had a female
passenger. Just as Lees was leaving the casino and about to
enter the Kansas turnpike, Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Reed
Sperry pulled him over because his "left-side brake
light [was] out." Before informing Lees of the reason
for the stop, Sperry instructed him to test his brake and
blinker lights to see if they were working. The tests
confirmed Sperry's belief that the left brake light was
not functioning properly. Lees' vehicle had three
separate brake lights, including the standard left and right
brake lights, in addition to a top-middle brake light. The
right and top-middle brake lights were both functional.
to Sperry's arrest report, after he explained the reason
for the stop to Lees, he noticed an odor of alcohol coming
from the vehicle. Upon inquiry, Lees denied consuming any
alcohol, but his passenger admitted to having a couple
drinks. Sperry then asked for Lees' driver's license
and proof of insurance. He provided an identification card.
Sperry ran Lees' information and discovered that he was