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Springfield News-Leader

Man sues highway patrol, says arrest was unlawfully based on expunged marijuana charge

By Stephen Herzog, Springfield News-Leader,


A Greene County man is suing the Missouri State Highway Patrol, alleging a trooper violated his constitutional rights by arresting him last May based on a felony conviction that was expunged the year prior.

According to court documents, Michael Cunningham was driving to work on Interstate 44 one morning and was rear-ended by another vehicle. He stayed at the scene to explain the crash to officers, and a trooper who arrived to speak with him noticed he had a handgun in his vehicle. The trooper asked to run the serial number on the handgun to make sure it wasn't stolen and Cunningham complied.

The trooper, Amanda Kahler, returned to Cunningham's vehicle and "advised him that he was under arrest for being a felon in possession of a firearm."

Cunningham says that was based on a 2002 conviction for possession of marijuana in Christian County, a conviction that was expunged by the court in 2021.

Cunningham says he explained that to the trooper and produced an official copy of the expungement and said the bottom of the record that showed his conviction should end with the word "closed."

The trooper "advised she was aware of the expungement statute and its implications, but that she could not accept the certified copy of the expungement order because it could be a fake," court records say.

The trooper completed the arrest.

"The arrest in question was unlawful and without probable cause or warrant," Cunningham says in the documents. "Kahler confiscated (Cunningham's) firearm and took him to the Greene County jail where he was booked, fingerprinted, and stripped of his belongings."

Cunningham is arguing that's a violation of the 4th Amendment.

"Additionally, as a direct result of Defendants’ unlawful arrest, (Cunningham) missed work and suffered emotional pain and suffering, including public embarrassment from the fact he had to explain to his employer he had been arrested and the fact his co-workers saw him being arrested on their way to work."

Cunningham is also suing the Missouri State Highway Patrol as an entity, arguing that it didn't appropriately close records after they were expunged. He said troopers should not even have access to closed, expunged records.

On Tuesday, the case was submitted to a court mediation program, in which an outside mediator will attempt to settle the case with the involved parties.

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