Nebraska Court of Appeals reverses Gage County drug conviction

BEATRICE – The Nebraska Court of Appeals has reversed the drug conviction of a Gage County woman and sent the case back to Gage County District Court for a new trial.

Rhonda Thompson was initially convicted of methamphetamine possession in a bench trial and sentenced to a two-year probation term, following a September 2019 traffic stop.  She challenged denial of her motion to suppress evidence in the case. 

A Beatrice Police officer gave a warning to Thompson for failure to stop and issued a citation for an expired registration.   Following a ten-minute period, the officer, in completing the citation process, inquired whether anything illegal was in the car that a drug dog would indicate on. 

Thompson answered no but consented to a vehicle search and a search of her person.  Police recovered suspected methamphetamine.

The Appeals Court concluded the search was not unreasonable, but also concluded the justification for the traffic stop ended before the officer’s additional inquiries….and that he lacked authority to do so.  The Appeals Court concluded that the facts amounted to a violation of protections under the Fourth Amendment. 

The court said the officer’s further inquiries exceeded the permissible scope of the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion.  It said the district court erred in overruling Thompson’s motion to suppress and by admitting at trial the evidence seized from Thompson during the traffic stop.