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Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

State v. Mitchell, 960 P.2d 200 (Kan. 1998).

This case answers the following question:

Can evidence be used in court that was discovered after a prolonged detention?

The issue in this case is whether an officer can delay a stop for additional questioning after the driver has produced a valid license and proof that he or she is entitled to operate the car. In order to justify a temporary detention for questioning, the officer must also have reasonable suspicion of illegal transactions in drugs or of any other serious crime.

Mitchell was stopped for speeding. After the officer had gathered all the information necessary to issue a traffic citation, the officer proceeded to question Mitchell about any prior drug usage he had and asked to search Mitchell’s vehicle. Mitchell denied permission, and the officer informed him that a drug-sniffing dog would be called if he did not consent to a search. If the dog sniffed drugs, the vehicle would be searched without consent. At this point, Mitchell admitted that he had some joints in the truck and retrieved them for the officer. The officer collected the marijuana, informed Mitchell of his Miranda rights, and searched the truck. Mitchell turned the joints over to the officer about seven minutes after being stopped, and the whole incident took place in only thirteen minutes. Mitchell was charged with felony possession of marijuana. At trial, Mitchell moved to suppress the marijuana and all statements made during the stop. The trial judge granted the motion to suppress.

In order to justify a temporary detention for questioning, the officer must also have reasonable suspicion of illegal transactions in drugs or of any other serious crime. The State argues that the length of this stop was relatively short, and that the questioning of Mitchell only lasted about one minute and twenty seconds, which is what it would have taken to write out the speeding citation. However, the officer did not write out a citation during this time, instead he questioned Mitchell about things that were unrelated to the purpose of the initial stop. Further, the actual length of the detention is not determinative on whether it was lawful or not. As set out in United States v. Sharpe, the basis for and the circumstances surround the stop, rather than an arbitrary time limit, govern the stop’s permissible length. Therefore, the detention in this case violated Mitchell’s fourth amendment rights to be free from unlawful seizures. Despite the short duration of the stop, it was still unreasonably extended beyond the time needed to write a citation.

In this case, the officer did not have any reasonably suspicion that Mitchell had drugs or a suspicion of any other crime other than the initial traffic infraction that led to the stop. After discovering that Mitchell had a valid license and was entitled to drive that vehicle, Mitchell was entitled to proceed on his way, without being subject to further detention for additional questioning. Therefore, the ruling of the lower courts is affirmed, and the evidence is suppressed.

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