Kansas Peace Officers Association

"Co-operation and Justice"

State v. Aaron Lees; No. 119,052

11/21/2018 3:19 PM | Grover Piper (Administrator)

You may recall the 2008 case of Martin v. KDOR that involved the “third” or “top-middle” brake light found on newer cars. The third light is usually mounted either inside or outside of the vehicle’s rear window. In Martin, the Kansas Supreme Court recognized the new “third” lights as acceptable brake lights, and went on to hold that the Kansas brake light statute, K.S.A. 8-1708, requires that only two of those three brake lights have to function. Unfortunately, not everyone got the word.

In 2017, Aaron Lees was leaving a casino when an officer noticed that the left-side brake light on Aaron’s car was out. The right-side brake light and the “top-middle” brake lights were functioning. Apparently unaware of Martin, the officer stopped Lees for a violation K.S.A. 8-1708(a). During the stop, Lees was arrested for DUI. Predictably, Lees asked the trial court to suppress the car stop (and thus the resulting DUI investigation) arguing that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation for the initial stop, citing Martin.

In the suppression hearing, the State did not contest that the officer had made a mistake of law, but instead argued that the mistake was a reasonable one. And, the U.S. Supreme Court has previously decided that reasonable mistakes of law do not invalidate reasonable suspicion. The trial judge did not buy it and suppressed the car stop. The State appealed. Last week, a panel of the Kansas Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge. The panel held that Martin is still good law and the officer’s mistake of law was not objectively reasonable because law enforcement has been on notice since 2008 that the “top-middle” light is a brake light. “[The officer] made the same mistake of law that the officer in Martin made over 10 years ago in Martin. [The officer] is a law enforcement officer, not an average citizen, and he is expected to understand the laws that he is duty bound to enforce.”

A second issue in the case was K.S.A. 8-1759a, the special vehicle inspection authority of KHP that says: “(a) Uniformed members of the highway patrol, at any time upon reasonable cause to believe that a vehicle is [1] unsafe or [2] not equipped as required by law, or that [3] its equipment is not in proper adjustment or repair, may require the driver of such vehicle to stop and submit such vehicle to an inspection and such test with reference thereto as may be appropriate.”

After lengthy discussion, the panel judicially narrowed the statute’s authority by adding the word “required” to number [3]. In other words: Troopers may stop a vehicle under [3] only when “its required equipment is not in proper adjustment or repair.” An example would be a driver that has mounted a large antenna on his car to receive messages from his Mother Ship in deep space. Everyone that sports a tin foil hat knows that such antennas are to be adjusted to the Flint Hills electromagnetic fields-50 Ohms of the Standing Wave Ratio. So, under the panel’s new ruling, a Trooper seeing such an antenna obviously out of tune, no longer has authority under K.S.A. 8-1759a to stop the car because having an antenna to communicate with space aliens, properly aligned or not, is not statutorily required to operate a vehicle in Kansas.

Colin

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