Panel explains rights with search, seizure laws


Controversial, hot-button issues have been the topics of the Dorothy L. Thompson Lecture Series since the beginning of the series. The Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure, was the spotlight of Tuesday’s lecture.

This topic is particularly applicable to a college audience because of the prevalence of drugs and alcohol on campuses and the danger, of both intoxication and imprisonment, that accompanies these substances.

The Fourth Amendment was instituted during the colonial period as a response to Britain’s laws, which allowed police to search property without any reasonable cause.

“We should be free from unnecessary government intrusions,” said Barry Wilkerson, Riley County attorney.

Michael Kaye, professor at Washburn University School of Law, spoke about the evolution of the amendment.

“Courts and legislatures have had to face the fact that circumstances have changed,” Kaye said.

Though the amendment still applies to house searches, it has adapted to cover vehicles as well. Alcohol, drugs and weapons have become the primary items officers now search for.

“I’m going to have to have a lot of reasons to search a car,” said Lt. Allan Lytton of the Kansas Highway Patrol Training Academy. Lytton said he approaches each car he stops the same way and poses the same questions, but said every situation is different.

The behavior of the people inside the vehicle, the scents coming from the vehicle and the initial observations the officer makes all have potential to become probable cause.

“(Officers) are allowed to search on probable cause without a warrant,” said David Stutzman, judge for the Riley County District Court.

There are several factors that an officer has to take into consideration at a traffic stop. Officer or trooper safety is extremely important to the factors that the officer has to weigh, Stutzman said. If it is night, if there are multiple people in the car or if there is suspicious behavior, all of these become factors.

Citizens are often confused when it comes to their rights, especially after being pulled over by a police officer. One topic that the panel discussed was something known as the “Columbo Turn.” This phrase refers to the occurrence of an officer completing all things necessary at a traffic stop, walking away from the vehicle, and then re-approaching the vehicle to ask further questions.

Kaye said this can cause a dilemma for the driver of the vehicle, who might not know what the police can do and cannot do.

Larry McRell, chief public defender from Junction City, said people should say nothing but be polite when pulled over.

Daniel Maslen, senior in chemical engineering, said the encounters he has had with police were not as by the book as Lytton portrayed.

In one instance, Maslen was sitting outside with five friends talking and had a neighbor call the police to complain about noise. When the officer arrived, “he saw a street sign hanging inside the house and he came in and tore it down,” Maslen said.

While Lytton said he would not search any house or car without probable cause, he also recognized that not every officer is going to abide by the same standard.

When it comes to instructing citizens on what to say and what not to say to an officer in traffic stop situations, Kaye said, “It’s all a matter of judgment on your part.”