They called it the “Kansas two-step.”

When a mundane traffic stop neared its end, a state trooper would turn to leave. But after a few steps toward the squad car, the trooper would turn and go back to the driver’s side window that had been pulled over, hoping to strike up a conversation and find enough reason to search the car for drugs. Maybe the driver would say something the trooper thought was suspicious, or maybe the driver would simply consent to a search.

But that two-step, which troopers often used against out-of-state drivers, was part of a “war on motorists” waged by the Kansas Highway Patrol in violation of the Fourth Amendment, a federal judge said Friday in a blistering opinion.

“The war is fundamentally a matter of numbers: stop enough cars and you’re bound to find drugs,” wrote Chief Judge Kathryn H. Vratil of the Federal District Court. “And what’s the harm if some constitutional rights are trampled along the way?”

Judge Vratil, who was appointed by President George HW Bush, described in scathing terms what she said was the Highway Patrol’s practice of pulling over drivers with out-of-state license plates on Interstate 70, which cuts across hundreds of miles of Kansas prairie between Colorado and Missouri, both states where marijuana is legal, and extending traffic stops in hopes of searching for a contraband. Marijuana is illegal in Kansas.

Judge Vratil wrote that Kansas troopers were trained to “consider the fact that a motorist is traveling to or from a ‘drug source’ or ‘drug destination’ state” in deciding whether they had probable cause to search a car for drugs. In her ruling Friday, she ordered troopers to stop taking that into account when dealing with drivers on Interstate 70.

“Now that both states have legalized recreational marijuana, any traveler on I-70 between Colorado and Missouri — that is, anywhere on I-70 in Kansas, traveling in either direction — is by definition traveling both to and from a ‘drug source’ state,” the judge wrote.

A spokesman for the Highway Patrol did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Friday. A spokeswoman for Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who appoints the Patrol’s superintendent, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Judge Vratil proposed, but did not immediately issue, an injunction that would require extra training for troopers and extra protections for drivers who agree to have their cars searched. Although it was not clear how many drivers experienced stops that the judge deemed unconstitutional, she cited data suggesting that motorists from other states were pulled over, and that their cars were examined by drug-sniffing dogs, at much higher rates than Kansans.

Sharon Brett, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, whose attorneys brought the case on behalf of several drivers who said they were victims of the two-step, said she was pleased the judge “stepped in to stop the department’s widespread misconduct.”

“Today’s decision,” she said in a statement, “validates that the constitutional rights of motorists cannot be thrown away under the guise of a ‘war on drugs.'”

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