The Kansas Supreme Court has overturned a man’s 2014 conviction in Leavenworth County because evidence seized in the case resulted from an unconstitutional warrantless search.

The Kansas Supreme Court has overturned a man’s 2014 conviction in Leavenworth County because evidence seized in the case resulted from an unconstitutional warrantless search.

The state’s top court is remanding the case of Robert W. Doelz back to Leavenworth County District Court for a new trial.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s opinion was released Jan. 11.

Doelz was convicted in 2014 of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

The charge stemmed from a June 1, 2013, search of a vehicle driven by Doelz.

The search uncovered 28.52 grams of methamphetamine wedged in the vehicle’s gas cap area, according to the Kansas Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Lee A. Johnson.

A Leavenworth police officer reportedly stopped the vehicle because its appearance was similar to a description of a vehicle used a day earlier during a robbery at a Leavenworth credit union.

During the stop, the officer spotted a plastic case which he believed contained a digital scale. The object was located on the backseat of the vehicle. Without permission to enter the vehicle or remove the object, the officer grabbed the case and opened it, confirming that it was a digital scale.

Prosecutors have since argued the officer knew this type of scale is commonly used in the distribution of illegal drugs, according to the Kansas Supreme Court opinion.

After opening the case and finding the scale, the officer confronted Doelz, who denied that it belonged to him.

The officer requested permission to search the vehicle. Doelz initially resisted.

The officer said that based on evidence he already had found, he was legally authorized to search the vehicle without Doelz’s permission, according to Kansas Supreme Court opinion.

Doelz reportedly said, “If you have to, go ahead.”

The methamphetamine was found during the ensuing search.

The Kansas Court of Appeals upheld Doelz’s conviction. But the Kansas Supreme Court found that a district court judge should have granted a defense motion to suppress evidence found during a search of the vehicle.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the officer’s ability to plainly see a box on the seat “was insufficient, standing alone, to authorize the officer to enter the vehicle, seize the box, and search it under the recognized plain-view exception to the warrant requirement,” Johnson wrote in the opinion for the court.

During a preliminary hearing, the officer had testified that he suspected the case was a digital scale but he was not immediately able to tell what is was.

“But even if the officer’s suspicions about the box on the backseat were to be viewed as sufficient to establish the right to seize the object, the plain-view exception, by its definition, did not permit the further search of the box without a warrant or another established exception,” Johnson wrote in the opinion for the Kansas Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court ruled that the evidence of the presence of the digital scale should have been suppressed. And the other circumstances of the traffic stop “were insufficient to establish a fair probability that the vehicle contained contraband” and did not provide probable cause for a search of the vehicle without a warrant, Johnson wrote in the opinion for the court.

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