License Plate Profiling: Colorado Drivers Pulled Over

profilingOn Jan. 1, 2014, recreational marijuana sales were legalized in Colorado, and according to the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), anecdotal evidence shows that adjacent states are profiling and targeting cars with Colorado license plates. According to NORML, the police are looking for people leaving Colorado with legally purchased pot.

Sean McAllister, a Denver-based criminal defense attorney and NORML spokesman, says he has had several clients pulled over by police in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. He thinks there is a lot of profiling of Colorado license plates occurring.

Several Kansas sheriffs in counties along the Colorado border have denied noticing an increase in drug activity, and have said that enforcement efforts have not increased. However, Larry Townssen, sheriff of Wallace County, says he has definitely noticed an increase in people driving back from Colorado after going there to buy pot.

Now a federal lawsuit has been filed in Idaho by a Colorado driver pulled over in what his attorney calls a case of license plate profiling. Darien Roseen filed the lawsuit on Wednesday, saying he was unlawfully detained and searched for pot solely on the basis of his Colorado license plates. Roseen, 69, was cleared after he was held and his truck searched for hours for the source of an alleged pot smell. Roseen’s attorney says his Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment Rights were violated, and the car search unjustified. The lawsuit seeks general and punitive damages.

On January 25, 2013, Roseen was on his way home from Washington to Pagosa Springs. Although medical marijuana was already lawful in 18 states, including Colorado, recreational pot sales were not yet legalized in Colorado.

Just inside the Idaho Border Roseen pulled off at a rest stop to use the bathroom, passing an Idaho State Trooper who was parked in the median. Trooper Justin Klitch followed Roseen into the rest stop and turned on his overhead lights. Klitch initially did not give Roseen a reason for following him, but finally said that Roseen did not signal when exiting the highway. Roseen claims he did signal.

According to the complaint filed, Klitch said he did not believe that Roseen got off to use bathroom, accusing him of pulling over just to try to avoid the police. Klitch asked Roseen why his eyes appeared glassy, and accused him of transporting something “he should not have in his vehicle.”

Roseen told Klitch he had prescription medications, but nothing else. The complaint shows that Klitch asked when Roseen had last used marijuana, apparently assuming because he had Colorado plates that he was transporting pot into Idaho. The complaint states that Klitch’s questioning never addressed the traffic violation that supposedly caused him to follow Roseen into the rest area.

Roseen kept telling Klitch that he did not use pot and never has, but the trooper kept asking to search Roseen’s vehicle, accusing him of having something concealed, and that his behavior in denying the search was consistent with someone hiding something. Roseen finally let the trooper search parts of his car. Klitch claimed he detected a pot smell coming from the trunk, and used the odor as probable cause to search and hold both Roseen and his truck at the local sheriff’s station.

Klitch drove Roseen to the Payette County Sheriff’s office in the back of a patrol car while another officer drove Roseen’s truck, without Roseen’s consent. At the sheriff’s office Roseen was told that he was free to leave, but that he could not have his truck until the police finished searching it. At least eight officers searched the vehicle for several hours and, according to the complaint, found no illegal substances.

Attorney Mark Coonts, one of the lawyers representing Roseen, said he has had a few more Colorado people with similar stories contact his firm with complaints of license plate profiling. Taylor West, the National Cannabis Industry Association deputy director, also says they have heard that police are being more aggressive in stopping and searching cars from Colorado.

By Beth A. Balen

Denver Post
CBS Seattle
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