Charges were dropped against Melody J. Kostansek, 45, of Ozark, Illinois, and Melissa G. Johnson, 43, of Carbondale, Illinois, after a judge ruled their stop was an unreasonable search and seizure that violated their constitutional rights.

A Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper did not have a reasonable cause to stop and search two Illinois women found in July to be carrying 50 pounds of marijuana through Cooper County, a circuit judge has ruled.

Felony drug charges against Melody J. Kostansek, 45, of Ozark, Illinois, and her passenger, Melissa G. Johnson, 43, of Carbondale, Illinois, were dismissed Monday as a result of the Dec. 31 ruling from Circuit Judge Robert L. Koffman, attorney Clark Jones said.

In his ruling, Koffman wrote that Cpl. Dennis Mathes’ stop of Kostansek was illegal and all evidence gathered during it had to be thrown out.

Mathes stopped Kostansek after she pulled into the Dogwood gas station at exit 98 on Interstate 70 just after midnight July 30, Jones noted in his motion to quash the evidence. A search uncovered 52 pounds of marijuana, 12 grams of methamphetamine, marijuana wax and several smoking pipes in the black Toyota van she was driving.

Mathes stopped the van, because Kostansek briefly crossed the white fog line on the right side of the road, according to court filings. Mathes also claimed Kostansek was suspiciously driving between 65 and 67 in a 70 mph zone, and as she was driving, she was sitting stiffly in her seat with her mouth open, the court records show.

In several recent large drug busts on I-70 drug in Cooper County, troopers have noted in their probable cause statements that the subject of a stop was sitting rigidly, but that didn’t fly with Koffman in this case.

“The Court cannot understand how driving stiff or with one’s mouth open is an indicator of anything,” Koffman wrote in his ruling.

Cooper County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Phelps could not immediately be reached for comment on Koffman’s ruling or whether it could have implications for other pending cases.

Mathes did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Kostansek’s van, Koffman wrote.

Mathes followed Kostansek for about 35 miles on eastbound I-70 after he spotted her at the 63-mile marker in Saline County. Though his stated reason for making the stop was that Kostansek crossed the white fog line into the shoulder around the 97-mile marker, he did not pull her over until she had pulled off the highway into a gas station at exit 98.

Since Mathes waited to pull Kostansek over, there was no reason for him to believe she was having a medical emergency that required a stop, Koffman wrote in his order. Besides, crossing a fog line alone isn’t a sufficient reason for a stop, especially when the driver crosses for only a second or less, Koffman wrote.

Driving just below the speed limit isn’t grounds for a stop and search either, Koffman wrote.

In his motion to quash evidence gathered during the stop, Kostansek’s attorney Clark Jones argued the fact she was following the law shouldn’t have given Mathes reasonable suspicion to stop her.

“Surely a late-night trip on the highway in an unfamiliar state, with police tailing for almost 30 miles, would impact (Kostansek’s) belief of what is a reasonably safe speed,” Jones wrote.

Ultimately, Koffman ruled the stop was an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of Kostansek’s Constitutional rights. He ruled the state cannot use any evidence gathered during the stop, or any statements Kostansek made after the stop.

“He had a good hunch, as the fruits of the stop prove,” Koffman wrote, “but a hunch is not sufficient.”

bcrowley@gatehousemedia.com