Drug War

Appeals Court Says Colorado Plates Don't Justify Detaining Drivers in Kansas

Reasonable suspicion of marijuana smuggling requires more than living in a state that allows medical or recreational use.



Driving from Aurora, Colorado, to Elkton, Maryland, in December 2011, Peter Vasquez was pulled over on Interstate 70 by Kansas Highway Patrol officers because the temporary tag for his car, which he had taped to the inside of the tinted rear window, was hard to read. After verifying that the car was properly registered, Officers Richard Jimerson and Dax Lewis should have sent Vasquez on his way. But he struck them as suspicious, largely because he had started his journey in "a drug source area" known for its medical marijuana dispensaries. So they detained him and fruitlessly searched his car after getting permission from a dog.

Yesterday, in a ruling that allows Vasquez to continue suing Jimerson and Lewis for violating his Fourth Amendment rights, a federal appeals court emphatically rejected the idea that plates from a state that allows medical or recreational use of marijuana should carry significant weight in deciding whether police have the "reasonable suspicion" they need to justify prolonging a traffic stop. "The Officers impermissibly relied on Vasquez's status as a resident of Colorado to justify the search of his vehicle," said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Jimerson and Lewis cited other reasons for detaining Vasquez: He was driving alone at night on a "known drug corridor" in a relatively old car, had a blanket and a pillow in the backseat, had left fingerprints on the trunk, and seemed nervous. But his Colorado plates loomed large in their evaluation, raising the specter of marijuana smuggling from a state that had loosened a prohibition Kansas still enthusiastically enforced. Jimerson and Lewis figured that Vasquez's sinister origin, combined with those other incriminating details, amply justified their decision to detain him long after resolving the original reason for the stop.

Nonsense, says the 10th Circuit:

Such conduct, taken together, is hardly suspicious, nor is it particularly unusual….

The Officers rely heavily on Vasquez's residency because Colorado is "known to be home to medical marijuana dispensaries." But we find this justification, in isolation or in tandem with other considerations, unconvincing….Currently, twenty-five states permit marijuana use for medical purposes, with Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C. permitting some recreational use under state law. Thus, the Officers' reasoning would justify the search and seizure of the citizens of more than half of the states in our country. It is wholly improper to assume that an individual is more likely to be engaged in criminal conduct because of his state of residence, and thus any fact that would inculpate every resident of a state cannot support reasonable suspicion. Accordingly, it is time to abandon the pretense that state citizenship is a permissible basis upon which to justify the detention and search of out-of-state motorists, and time to stop the practice of detention of motorists for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate.

Not only was the justification for Vasquez's detention constitutionally inadequate, the 10th Circuit says, but Jimerson and Lewis should have known that, meaning they are not entitled to "qualified immunity." In a 1997 case involving "strikingly similar circumstances," the court rejected detention of a driver based on innocent details such as nervousness, the car's age, supposedly unusual items inside it, and a trip originating in a "source state." Jimerson in particular should have recognized the speciousness of such excuses, since he was one of the cops accused of violating that driver's Fourth Amendment rights.

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  1. So they detained him and fruitlessly searched his car after getting permission from a dog.

    Officer Berkowitz.

    1. Officer Barkowitz.

      1. -1 serial killer reference.

  2. I like Jimerson and Lewis’s chances if this goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  3. So, wait. The same piece of shit cop was involved in both the illegal 1997 search and the one in 2011?!?

    I hope his kid wasn’t planning on going to college. I hope Jimerson ends up living in a cardboard box after he’s done paying damages to the victims of his false imprisonment.

    *victims because you know the piece of shit had to be doing it regularly.

    1. Clearly, he just needs some more training.

  4. You seriously think they detained him because he had a Colorado tag rather than that he probably looked suspiciously like the sort of person who might be named “Vasquez”? I’ll bet they weren’t just stopping Colorado tags, they were stopping niggers and spics no matter what state they were from.

    1. Why not six of one and half-a-dozen of the other?

    2. What about the Irish?

      1. We’ll take the niggers and chinks, but we don’t want the Irish.

  5. “Why did you detain the individual?”

    “He was coming out of a known crack-house”

    “How did you know it was a crack-house?”

    “We saw the individual coming out of it”

    /Actually said in Cook County probable cause hearing (the State lost).

  6. A “known drug corridor”….a.k.a, a road.

    “he left fingerprints on the trunk”….a.k.a he’s a living human being who a)has accessed the trunk of his car at some point which b)left a residue of oil in the pattern of the friction ridges of his fingers.

    Fucking grade-A detection work there. Well done.

    1. Yeah, that whole list of reasons was bizarre. More troubling is that one or both of those cops have probably used those reasons before and had no problem with warrants/judges/hearings.

      1. It’s called “throw enough bullshit at the court until they agree with you”. It worked at the district court level. Good thing the appeals court had more sense.

    2. Yeah, the “fingerprints on the trunk” thing really made me roll my eyes. I suspect that most everything I own has my fingerprints on it; does that mean the 4th Amendment is null and void for me?

    3. Not just “a road”, but a road that gets people through this suckhole state as quickly and directly as possible.

  7. Why does the wind blow from west to east?

    Kansas sucks.

  8. I’ve mentioned here before I live near a highway named after one of our local heroes. This guy was such a good drug cop that he gave lessons to other cops on how to spot drugs on the highway – drivers with drugs in their cars tend to either drive fast to get rid of the drugs as quickly as possible, drive slowly because they don’t want to be caught speeding, or drive exactly the same pace as the other traffic in an attempt to blend in. So that’s a dead giveaway somebody’s carrying drugs, if they’re driving too fast or too slow or neither too fast nor too slow. I shit you not.

    1. Or if they’re not driving at all. Just sitting in their homes. Dead giveaway.

    2. I’ve seen similar nonsense in regards to the “justifications” for suspecting air travelers of being dope smugglers: if they’re traveling alone or if they’re with someone, if they pay cash or they use a credit card, if they don’t have checked baggage or they do, etc. etc.

      1. “He seemed nervous.”

        “He was too calm.”

  9. I’d be interested in seeing this cop’s testimonial record regarding “signs you may be a drug dealer” with regards to the age and cleanliness and fingerprintedness of the car as well. I’d be willing to bet he’s testified before that a lack of fingerprints on the trunk indicate a drug dealer who’s careful to wipe off prints, a clean car is a drug dealer careful to not keep trash in his car, a new car is a drug dealer who likes to splurge with his money. A moderately new car with only a little bit of trash and one or two fingerprints is obviously a drug dealer trying to disguise that fact by neither having a new nor an old car, a clean nor a dirty car, a car with neither too many nor too few fingerprints. And of course drug dealers give themselves away with their nervousness, or their lack of nervousness because they know that nervousness tips off the cops, or their trying to appear just a little bit nervous to fool the cops into believing they’re neither too nervous nor not nervous enough. Them dumb old drug dealers can’t fool a cagy cop who’s wise to all their tricks!

    1. It’s drug dealers all the way down.

    2. What all that assorted horse hooey probably means is that the cop doesn’t want to say the REAL reasons that he becomes suspicious.

      This is probably either because he doesn’t want to tip off the drug runners, or (more likely) that the reasons have something to do with swarthy complexions and funny accents.

  10. It’s pretty great that you can be a gigantic dickhole to the point where you are involved in two major cases about the same fucking issue, and still get to be a cop.

  11. Could stop this sort of shit by legalizing drugs.

    Or not mandating license plates in the first place.

    1. Legalize drugs? That would be a disaster!

      Think of all the government bureaucrats who would lose their fiefdoms! All of the police departments that would lose all that great War On Drugs cash, and all the cool tanks and drones and stuff! All of the people who would have to get real jobs! All the pretexts for seizing private property lost!

      What kinda monster are you?

  12. Great! Now when do we get rid of the bullshit dog-based searches?

  13. When KS was “dry” did they automatically stop all vehicles with OK and TX plates, because that was were all the bootleggers were?

    1. Not sure about those states, but my father made an occasional run in from MO. Said it was always a good idea to take the country roads instead of the highways.

    2. so the most effective dodge would be to have multiple cars, each plated in the state in which you only drive that one. Drive from home in state A to a border town in state B, hole up overnight, move the cargo to car B, drive car B through that state, switch at the other end of state B as you enter state C, switch to car C… always a home boy, driving them old country roads at a leisurely pace…..

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