Kansas Highway Patrol Writing Ticket

A federal judge has ruled the Kansas Highway Patrol’s practice of the “Kansas two-step” violates the constitutional rights of drivers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas sued the patrol for using the method to conduct unlawful searches. The “Kansas two-step” is when an officer conducts a routine traffic stop, then takes a few steps toward the police vehicle but then turns around, which initiates a new stop and allows them to ask the driver more questions.

KHP has argued the driver is having a voluntary conversation with an officer. It is usually used with vehicles coming to Kansas from states where marijuana is legal, like drivers traveling on Interstate 70 from Colorado. Drivers have said they didn’t know the conversations that happened after the two-step were voluntary and had their vehicles searched.

In some cases, the additional time spent talking to the driver allowed KHP to call in a drug-sniffing dog. That practice was common. The highway patrol encouraged troopers to use the two-step in training presentations.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil said in the ruling that practice unlawfully detains out-of-state motorists in Kansas without reasonable suspicion. She said the patrol has “waged war” on out-of-state drivers.

“As wars go, this one is relatively easy,” Vratil said in the ruling, “it’s simple and cheap, and for motorists, it’s not a fair fight.”

KHP has until Aug. 14 to argue that an injunction should not be ordered.

The decision was yet another ruling against the two-step. Juries have already ruled against KHP in two previous decisions. In April, Joshua Bosire was awarded $40,000 for police misconduct from a 2019 stop.

In 2017, 93% of drivers pulled over by highway patrol had out-of-state license plates, according to the lawsuit.

Col. Herman Jones, the former leader of KHP, said during the trial that highway patrol now requires troopers to list reasons for detaining drivers in hopes that it would prevent the practice in the future. A report by the Topeka Capital-Journal found those reports aren’t commonly used.

Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, said the ruling was a win for anyone who travels on Kansas highways.

“It was past time,” Brett said, “to put an end to these practices that trampled on the fundamental rights of people traveling Kansas highways.”

By Blaise Mesa & Dylan Lysen, Kansas News Service