A federal judge has ruled that the Kansas Highway Patrol's practice of detaining motorists with out-of-state license plates on I-70, particularly those from Colorado and Missouri, to search for drugs is unconstitutional, the Washington Post reports. In a 79-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, wrote that a KHP unit waged a “war on motorists” in the “name of drug interdiction" by pursuing a numbers game, stopping enough cars that they eventually find drugs. “This is a huge win — for our clients and for anyone else who travels on Kansas highways,” Sharon Brett, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas, said in a statement. “When we give police the power to conduct these pretextual stops, assume people to be drug traffickers, and use flimsy justifications to get inside their vehicles to prolong traffic stops, we turn what should be a simple ticket-release scenario into something longer, fraught, and complicated."
The practice, called the Kansas "two-step," turned routine traffic stops into excuses to detain motorists whom troopers suspected of transporting drugs, based on their out-of-state plates, race, or other factors. Friday’s ruling follows similar judgments by two juries in cases against individual officers this year. In late April, a jury found that a trooper violated a motorist's Fourth Amendment rights during a 2019 stop and awarded the motorist $40,000 in damages. The driver was stopped for exceeding the speed limit by seven miles per hour. The trooper did not ticket him but instead struck up a conversation while calling for backup, eventually asking for permission to search the vehicle. The motorist refused, so the trooper then called in a K-9 unit, but no drugs were found and the motorist was allowed to leave after being detained for nearly an hour. A separate jury awarded another motorist $1 after finding that a different trooper had violated his rights during a 2017 stop. The latest case before Vratil challenged the Kansas Highway Patrol’s overall policing policy.