© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Judge rules Kansas Highway Patrol’s ‘two-step’ violates constitutional rights of drivers

 A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper walks to a car in a parking lot.
Blaise Mesa
Kansas News Service
The judge said Kansas Highway Patrol troopers used the "two-step" to initiate unlawful searches of drivers coming into Kansas from states with legal marijuana.

The ruling found the Kansas Highway Patrol use of maneuver to detain out-of-state drivers for drug searches is unlawful.

A federal judge on Friday 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 to initiate a new stop and 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 happen 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 next month to argue that an injunction should not be ordered.

Friday’s decision was 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.”

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can email him at blaise@kcur.org.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Blaise Mesa is based in Topeka, where he covers the Legislature and state government for the Kansas City Beacon. He previously covered social services and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service.
As the Kansas social services and criminal justice reporter, I want to inform our audience about how the state government wants to help its residents and keep their communities safe. Sometimes that means I follow developments in the Legislature and explain how lawmakers alter laws and services of the state government. Other times, it means questioning the effectiveness of state programs and law enforcement methods. And most importantly, it includes making sure the voices of everyday Kansans are heard. You can reach me at dlysen@kcur.org, 816-235-8027 or on Threads, @DylanLysen.