Colorado Man Stopped for Marijuana Based on License Plate?

A Colorado man has initiated a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Idaho because he was stopped while driving through Idaho last year.  Idaho law enforcement contacted and detained Darien Roseen because he had Colorado license plates.  Idaho officers searched the car for marijuana.


Federal and state law requires reasonable suspicion before law enforcement can initiate a traffic stop.  Reasonable suspicion can be met if an officer observes any sort of traffic infraction, such as speeding, weaving or even having expired plates.  However, simply driving a car with Colorado plates in a different state is not enough to support a traffic stop.  It is not clear whether the officers in Roseen’s case saw him commit a traffic infraction before stopping him.  If not, stopping Roseen may have been a violation of his Constitutional rights.

If the officers did stop Roseen for a traffic violation, then the duration and nature of the traffic stop must be reasonable.  Reasonableness is related to the type of investigation to be completed.  It sounds as though officers believed they smelled marijuana in the car.  Officers detained Roseen and searched his car for four hours looking for marijuana.  Presumably they did not find any.  Under these circumstances, the duration of the search likely exceeded the scope of any proper investigation.  Again, this would be a violation of Roseen’s Constitutional rights.

While it sounds as though officers did not find any marijuana or other drugs in the car, even if they had found marijuana, it does not mean the traffic stop and search of the car were legally proper.  If the stop or search was improper, then the remedy is suppression of the evidence found.  For example, in Roseen’s case, if the officers had found marijuana in the car, but the judge decided the officer’s lacked reasonable suspicion and, therefore, did not have legal authority to stop him, then the marijuana found could not be used by the prosecution to prove their case.  In some situations, suppression of evidence may result in dismissal of charges.

Source:  The Denver Post, Alison Noon, March 29, 2014