Seized Cash Successfully Returned to Rightful Owner

Civil-asset-forfeiture

Court: Authorities Must Return $167,000 in Seized Cash

In a May 8 ruling, a Polk County District Court judge ruled authorities must return over $167,000  unlawfully taken from our client whom officers wrongfully suspected of identity theft.  Our client was stopped, seized and his vehicle searched all because the police mistakenly believed he was involved in an identity theft case. During the search, the police found the chash and other items which resulted in criminal charges.

The State, attempting to keep the money, filed a forfeiture action in the Iowa District Court. However, the cash was returned after the State failed to file a notice of pending forfeiture as required under Iowa Code Section 809A.8.  Iowa Code Chapters 809 and 809A require the State follow a stringent forfeiture procedure before permanently taking property from private citizens.  Seized property and cash must be returned if the State fails to comply. 

Criminal Charges Dismissed

As noted, our client faced several criminal charges as well.  Dean Stowers successfully argued that the police searched our client’s vehicle in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Thus, even if the State had followed the proper forfeiture procedure, the cash was illegally seized and had to be returned.

Iowa Forfeiture Attorneys

Millions of dollars are seized every year from law-abiding citizens.  State and Federal law enforcement agencies make billions of dollars each year stealing cash and property from private citizens. The attorneys at Stowers and Sarcone are well versed in Iowa forfeiture law and are dedicated to relentlessly seeking the return of your unjustly and illegally seized property. Don’t let the government illegally profit off you!  Contact us today at 515-224-7446.

How the Iowa Supreme Court Limited Warrantless Searches of Vehicles

Today, I want to blog about one of my favorite Iowa Supreme Court Opinions. This opinion limited warrantless searches of vehicles that travel on Iowa roads.

On June 30, 2015, the Iowa Supreme Court handed down a decision that limits the warrantless search of vehicles after a person has been arrested. The decision stemmed from a 2012 traffic stop in Davenport, Iowa. Upon stopping the defendant for an expired license plate, a police officer smelled marijuana and confiscated a marijuana blunt from the defendant. After arresting the defendant for possession of marijuana, the police searched the passenger compartment where a locked safe was held. An officer opened the safe without a search warrant and found more marijuana and a gun. Based upon the evidence from the warrantless search, the defendant was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, failure to affix a drug tax stamp, and knowingly transporting a gun in a vehicle.

The Court ruled that the search violated the defendant’s rights under Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution, which states that “(t)he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable seizures and searches shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue but on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons and things to be seized.”

The recent Iowa ruling does more to protect individual privacy rights than the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in U.S. v. Gant, which says that “(p)olice may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.” This was previously the rule in Iowa for warrantless searches of a vehicle after a person has been arrested. The new Iowa rule states that an officer may only search a vehicle following an occupant’s recent arrest if an arresting officer is in immediate danger or a suspect is within reach of drugs, guns, or other illegal items. This ruling eliminates a police officer’s capability to search a vehicle after an arrest even when that officer has a reasonable suspicion that a vehicle contains evidence of the offense of the arrest. Stated simply, an officer must now acquire a warrant before he or she searches an individual’s vehicle in situations where that individual has been arrested, unless that officer is in danger or the individual is within reach of the drugs, guns, or other illegal items. This new ruling requires police officers to obtain warrants in situations that they previously did not need to, and provides more privacy protections for you while you are in your vehicle.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, call Stowers & Sarcone today at (515) 224-7446. Protect your rights! Act now!

Who trains law enforcement in conducting criminal interdiction traffic stops?

Nowadays, every professional has to keep his or her skills up-to-date and to continue education throughout a career. Law enforcement is not an exception. Many companies offer services in the sphere of the law enforcement training. Officers can attend seminars on street crimes, defensive tactics, criminal intelligence, active shooter training and many other programs.

Police officers receive training in how to conduct drug interdiction traffic stops. A lot of companies encourage officers to get that training and claim that the drug interdiction training is important for a successful career in law enforcement. For example, the “Desert Snow” Program allegedly teaches officers how to conduct drug interdiction stops. A lot of police officers attended the Desert Snow training program and tried to copy it in some way to train other policemen. Many of the teaching of these programs are of doubtful legality and could be leading to systematic violations of the rights of persons traveling the roadways.

Every driver should anticipate that a policeman who stops a car will try to use criminal interdiction techniques on him or her. In In re Pardee, the case that I litigated and won, the Iowa Supreme Court limited what policemen can do during traffic stops. Accordingly, if you were charged with narcotics possession as a result of the routine traffic stop, you may have a defense. Even if you think that the policeman did everything right, he might have not. At Stowers and Sarcone, we know a lot about drug interdiction traffic stops. If you have any questions, please call me. I will be happy to help!

Forfeiture Attorney: Iowa’s Cash Seizure Cops Target Out-of-State Drivers

Iowa forfeiture attorney cash seizure targets out of state drivers

I’m an attorney, I handle significant forfeiture cases and I know that Iowa’s cash seizure cops do target our-of-state drivers. A few months back I posted an Editorial from the Des Moines Register, “Patrol forfeitures target out-of-state drivers“. I didn’t say much about it at the time so I wanted to revisit the editorial and discuss it for my readers.

The editorial was written days 4 days after the Iowa Supreme Court decided In the Matter of Property Seized from Pardee. Pardee, is a case that I litigated in the District Court, Iowa Court of Appeals and ultimately won in the Iowa Supreme Court. Pardee is a cash seizure/forfeiture case involving $33,100.00 in seized cash. An Iowa State Trooper claimed he initially stopped Mr. Pardee and Pardee’s friend for several minor traffic offenses. While, technically true, the Trooper really stopped Mr. Pardee because he wanted to conduct an interdiction investigation to determine whether Pardee had drugs or cash in the vehicle. The Trooper found a few joints and the $33,100.00 in cash in the car. Mr. Pardee was acquitted of all drug charges but the State still forfeited his cash. I argued repeatedly that the Trooper’s actions violated Mr. Pardee’s constitutional rights and the Iowa Supreme Court eventually sided with me. The Court ruled that the Trooper’s actions violated Mr. Pardee’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal searches and seizures.

Importantly, in Pardee, Trooper Eric Vander Weil admitted that he and other members of the Iowa State Patrol Interdiction Teams target out-of-state drivers for these so-called “interdiction stops” – traffic stops not made for traffic enforcement but which are actually intended to result in a search of the stopped vehicle. According to the editorial, the testimony I elicited from Tooper Vander Weil directly contradicted the official line out of the Iowa State Patrol –

“I can tell you, we’re not targeting out-of-staters. We’re out there enforcing the law, and they make a traffic stop, and that’s when they find the criminal activity that’s occurring coming across the interstates.” – Sgt. Scott Bright, Iowa State Patrol.

In addition, I also secured Trooper Vander Weil’s warning and citation data (collectively “tickets”) via an Iowa open records request. The data revealed that he wrote over 90% of his tickets to out-of-state drivers.

Something is most assuredly wrong when law enforcement must blatantly lie to the public about their actions and motives. Surely, if there were nothing “suspect” in either, there would be no need for dishonesty. As an attorney who regularly fights forfeiture cases, I find the Iowa State Patrol’s actions to be incredibly disturbing and I applaud the Des Moines Register for their editorial. I am happy to have shed light on the subject and will keep fighting hard to ensure the protection of everyone’s constitutional rights, including our friends from the other 49 states.

Can The Police Search Your Car Without a Warrant?

Can the police search your car

Can the police search your car without a warrant? The truth is while the police generally need a warrant to search your person, residence and personal property, they need only possess probable cause to search your car. Probable cause means that the police have good reason to believe they will find some evidence of criminal activity in your car. Common examples of probable cause include the smell of marijuana coming from your vehicle, observation of any contraband inside your car or a credible, corroborated report that your car contains something illegal. Without probable cause the police need a warrant or your consent to search your car.

WHY DON’T THE POLICE NEED A WARRANT?

Your car is inherently mobile, meaning it can move and move quickly. The Supreme Court has said that  your cars mobility creates an “exigent circumstance” – in this case a situation which requires swift action to prevent the destruction of evidence – which makes a warrant unnecessary. So if they have probable cause the police can search your car without a warrant and without your consent.

WHAT IF THE COPS DO NOT HAVE PROBABLE CAUSE TO SEARCH YOUR CAR?

If the police do not possess probable or a warrant, there are three additional situations in which they can search your car.  Those are:

  • A Search Incident to Arrest
  • An Inventory Search
  • A Consent Search

SEARCH INCIDENT TO ARREST

The cops can search your car incident to your arrest if, and only if, you have been arrested and the police have a reasonable suspicion that they will find evidence of the crime for which they arrested you.  Reasonable suspicion is like probable cause but it requires less suspicion and less evidence. Reasonable suspicion to search your car must be related to the crime for which you were arrested. If you are arrested for Operating While Intoxicated and the police see a beer can in your car, they would possess a reasonable suspicion of finding evidence of your operating while intoxicated and could search your car. On the other hand, if you are arrested for driving on a suspended license, reasonable suspicion to search likely would not exist since the only real evidence is the fact you were driving.

INVENTORY SEARCH

If you have been arrested and the police impound your car they can perform a search to inventory it’s contents. Inventory searches are quite common. To be valid the police have an inventory search policy and they must follow the policy. Inventory searches protect the police and the tow company from claims that property taken from the vehicle.

CONSENT SEARCH

When the police want to search your car but have no legal justification for it, they will ask for your consent to search.  Your consent makes any otherwise unlawful search, lawful. Anytime you give consent you give the police the legal authority to search. Even if the police have an independent legal basis to search your car they may ask for your consent to absolutely ensure the lawfulness of the search. Which bring us to the next important question:

WHAT TO DO IF THE POLICE WANT YOUR CONSENT TO SEARCH YOUR CAR?

If the police ask for your consent to search your car you may give it or refuse. You cannot be arrested for refusing and you will not face any legal penalties. The 4th Amendment protects your RIGHT to refuse a search. A refusal is not an admission nor evidence of guilt. There are many reasons to refuse to give your consent. Perhaps, you just want to be on your way. Maybe you have something illegal in your car. Whatever the reason you do not have to give your consent.  Refusing a search is YOUR RIGHT!

When you refuse the cops may threaten arrest, tell you its no big deal if you have something illegal in the car or tell you they have some other basis to search.  If the police have another basis they will search anyway and there is no need to give your consent. Do not try and evaluate whether the police have a legal basis for searching your car. Even if they do you can still refuse.  REFUSAL IS YOUR RIGHT!

If the police claim they will not arrest you it is probably a lie. Remember, consent makes an otherwise unlawful search lawful. The officer’s goal is to get your consent, search your car and then arrest you. If you refuse consent and the police search your car anyway then your attorney can file a motion to suppress whatever the police find. If the search was unlawful the evidence will be thrown out. The case will be dismissed if there is no additional evidence.

If you do give your consent you are also free to REVOKE it at anytime. If the police are searching and you decide enough is enough, you can politely tell them you revoke your consent and they must stop searching. Your consent, refusal or revocation is important and you should try to ensure that it is recorded in some fashion. Many cops have dash cams and body mics. Make sure you communicate loudly and clearly so your words are captured by the officer’s body mic. This will assist your attorney.

THE BOTTOM LINE

You should always remain calm and collected. Be polite and courteous. Remember your rights.  You have the RIGHT to REFUSE consent to search. You have the RIGHT to REVOKE previously given consent. Once you refuse ask. “Are you detaining me or am I free to leave?” If you are free to leave, then leave. If you are not, then wait patiently and SILENTLY. The police can search your car without a warrant but you NEVER have to consent!