Missouri Highway patrol’s stop and search was illegal – again

A new case out of the Missouri Court of Appeals, State v. Ross is another in a series of Highway Patrol cases where the defendant was charged with drug possession after an illegal detention and search of his car. The surprise is not that patrol officers have done this, but that there are prosecutors who–to this very day–still prosecute such cases.

The Defendant, Ross, was driving a rental car and got stopped for speeding. The patrolman pulled him over, put Ross in his patrol car, wrote Ross a warning ticket and told him he was free to go. At that point the legal traffic stop was officially over.

As Ross walked back his car, the officer got out of his car and called out to Ross. Ross and the officer talked a bit. Ross agreed to answer some more questions, mostly related to Ross’s opinions about drug use. Finally, the officer asked if he could search the car. Ross said no, not unless his passenger agreed.

The officer asked the passenger for permission to search the car. He refused. The officer called for the drug dog. An hour after the traffic stop began, the dog arrived and sniffed out marijuana in the trunk.

Ross was arrested, along with his passenger. The prosecutor filed the charge, a defense motion to suppress was heard and the evidence was thrown out by the court because the continued detention of the defendant was illegal. That trial court decision was upheld by the Missouri Court of Appeals on June 3, 2008.

By now, I expect police and prosecutors have figured this out:

When an officer makes a legal traffic stop, finishes the stop, and releases a person–and if they have no further grounds on which to detain them–then THEY MUST LET THEM GO.

They cannot keep a person any longer under the pretense of having a chat between friends, not unless the driver clearly understands he is free to leave and feels no compulsion to stay and answer questions. Such would seldom be the case when one party is an unarmed citizen and the other is a uniformed & armed police officer who has pulled the citizen over by threat of force.

Obviously, this rule is violated even more when the police press even harder and ask to search and are refused. And then they detain the driver or the car while they wait for a drug dog. There can be no excuse for this. None.

The Prosecutors fought this case for over four years before they finally lost. (That’s assuming they dismiss the case now that their evidence has been tossed out for good. As of this writing, they still have not dismissed the case, per casenet in Franklin County #04AB-CR00090).

I hope this is the end of this sort of thing. Better a few miscreants escape punishment than the rest of us live under tyrants. It’s called liberty.