Drug charges dropped on grounds of illegal search

WORTHINGTON -- Two felony drug charges and a misdemeanor against Steven McKnight were dismissed last month by Nobles County District Court in a contested omnibus hearing.

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WORTHINGTON - Two felony drug charges and a misdemeanor against Steven McKnight were dismissed last month by Nobles County District Court in a contested omnibus hearing.


On Feb. 8, Judge Gordon Moore dismissed the charges on the basis that Minnesota State Patrol Trooper Tyler Iverson, who pulled McKnight over and searched his vehicle, lacked probable cause, therefore violating the Fourth Amendment.


In early September last year, McKnight was travelling westbound on Interstate 90 in a Toyota Tacoma, fitted with a Washington license plate. He was following behind a blue Toyota Tundra bearing Indiana license plates and driven by Daniel Medlin. The two were traveling at around 65 miles per hour in a 70-mph speed zone.



Iverson testified that he pulled over both vehicles because McKnight was following dangerously close behind Medlin’s car in front of him. As he pulled up next to McKnight’s car, Iverson said his suspicions were raised as McKnight did not make eye contact with the the trooper’s car, and had his hands on the steering wheel in the 10 and 2 o’clock positions.


After he pulled them over, the two told the officer they were traveling together. They said they traveled from Washington to Indiana to purchase the Tundra, as it was hard to find for sale up north. McKnight told Iverson he was semi-retired.


During questioning, McKnight admitted there was marijuana in his car. Iverson searched the car and found three grams of marijuana in the Tacoma and seven grams of marijuana in the Tundra. In his search of the Tacoma, he also found 10 milligrams of dextroamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, 50 milligrams of Tramadol, a Schedule IV controlled substance and a bong.

The state argued that Iverson had cause to stop the vehicle, as the two cars were traveling too close to each other and the drivers were traveling at a speed lower than the limit to avoid suspicion.



In expanding the search, Iverson said McKnight fit into a “drug courier profile,” as he felt the travel plans were suspicious, and that drug couriers are often unemployed and typically travel with a dog to mask the odor of drugs or distract K9 units.


However, Moore said that profile was nothing more than an “inchoate hunch.” He said the argument that McKnight showed nervousness by avoiding eye contact with the trooper and using a 10 and 2 o’clock position on his steering wheel was also without merit.


“Acting suspicious and avoiding eye contact with officers does not support reasonable suspicion unless and until it is coupled with other particularized and objective facts,” he said in a written statement dismissing the case.


He said nervousness combined with an officer’s perception of drug-related intoxication would contribute to reasonable suspicion, but Iverson did not report such an observation.



Moore dismissed any suspicions about Medlin and McKnight driving under the speed limit. He also said Iverson unlawfully expanded the scope of the traffic stop by asking about controlled substances, a question that didn’t relate to the stop.


Moore noted that although McKnight had engaged in illegal activity, he was innocent in this case, as the search was conducted unlawfully.


“That Defendant was illegally transporting controlled substances in this case is undisputed, but it is important to remember that few decisions on Fourth Amendment Issues vindicate innocent people,” he said.


McKnight said he is considering taking action against the state in the form of a tort claim. He also took issue that the $2,500 bail owed to him, which he posted in September, has not arrived at his designated mailing address yet.


“To do this day it hasn’t arrived,” McKnight said. “Every court document has made it to me on time, no problem, but now that they owe me, there’s trouble with it getting here.”


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