Students and locals heard debates regarding constitutional law Tuesday when a Kansas Court of Appeals Court panel listened to arguments in four cases at the K-State Student Union.
A panel comprising Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and judges Henry Green Jr. and Michael Buser started the morning hearing cases from Riley and Geary counties.
Arnold-Burger said they chose the cases because they all dealt with some sort of constitutional element as the panel was meeting at the university on Constitution Day. Three of the cases dealt with the Fourth Amendment, which protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In the first case, City of Manhattan v. Joel Laub, defense attorney John Thurston said police stopped Laub in 2018, but the reason for the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion.
In the case, a Riley County police officer stopped Laub after he drove 2 feet over a curb while turning right near the intersection of Bluemont Avenue and North 11th Street around 1 a.m. on a Sunday. The officer concluded Laub was driving under the influence and arrested him.
A municipal court judge found Laub guilty of DUI, and Laub appealed to the district court. Laub argued the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him because driving over the curb was not a traffic violation. The officer testified he believed Laub committed either an improper right turn or lane violation. The district court upheld Laub’s DUI conviction, finding Laub committed a lane violation when he drove over the curb.
Thurston cited State v. Fred Ross, where an officer pulled Ross over for crossing over the solid white line on the side of the road once and arrested him for driving without a valid license. Police later found cocaine residue on an item on him during a search.
In that case, a judge determined that momentary violation of one’s lane is permissible, absent other facts and issues the officer knows such as present danger to other people.
Mellisa Rundus, chief prosecutor for the city of Manhattan, said this case was not applicable enough to the present one as Ross was driving alone on Interstate 135 near Newton, whereas Laub cut across a curb near Aggieville, which the officer had testified was busy with pedestrians.
“He was concerned for safety,” Rundus said. “He didn’t think of a DUI (when he pulled Laub over).”
During his rebuttal, Thurston said the traffic ordinances that Laub was said to have violated are too vague in their language and allow officers a wide berth to stop people.
In another case, a Geary County deputy stopped Alexis Milla in 2016 for driving in the passing lane for too long.
During the stop, the officer became suspicious of drug activity based on Milla’s “implausible” travel plans of returning from Kentucky to Colorado and several items he saw in the car.
The officer brought out his police dog, and it alerted to the scent of narcotics. Officers searched the vehicle and found thousands of dollars bundled and wrapped in dryer sheets and duct tape.
Officers arrested Milla for transportation of drug proceeds and seized the currency. The state later began this civil forfeiture proceeding. At trial, Milla claimed he acquired the money from various legal sources over the years. He argued the court should suppress the currency evidence because officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by unlawfully extending the traffic stop beyond its initial lawful scope when his car was searched.
The district court ruled officers had reasonable suspicion to search Milla’s vehicle and found Milla could not prove he acquired the currency through legal means.
Thurston, the defense lawyer in this case as well, said before the officer brought out his dog, he did not have enough suspicion to prolong the stop as the officer did not see illegal items nor smell drugs or the dryer sheets that could theoretically be used to mask the smell of drugs.
Prosecutors said by the time the officer called into dispatch to look into the driver’s background, he already had reasonable suspicion when he saw the radios, dryer sheets and other items. He also had doubts about their travel story.
The panel was hearing additional cases at press time. Coverage of those cases will be in Wednesday’s edition.
The panel was schedule to hear an appeal that a Geary County Sheriff’s lieutenant allegedly violated a woman’s Fourth Amendment rights by pulling her over for traffic offenses and later searched her car for drugs and found marijuana.
The panel also will hear a case in which a Junction City High School teacher said the Geary County District Court erred in denying teachers’ claims of breach of contract after the school asked the teachers to teach remedial classes during their seminar periods and were not entitled to additional compensation.
The panel will issue written decisions on these cases at a later date.