Police Airplane Caught You Speeding?

airplane speeding ticket

A police airplane caught you speeding? Or did it? The Iowa State Patrol and other Iowa law enforcement agencies utilize aircraft to allegedly catch speeders. This method of speed enforcement seems super hi-tech, right? It isn’t. In fact, its highly unscientific and prone to substantial error.

Several years ago I tried an airplane speeding case in Mason City, Iowa. I came away enlightened (and with a not guilty jury verdict). Have you ever wondered what those painted white blocks are in the middle of interstate lanes. You are not alone. I used to wonder all the time. Those blocks are used to clock vehicles from an airplane. Here is how it worked in my case:

A state trooper piloted an aircraft over the interstate. While flying, he also watched the traffic on the interstate. When a vehicle crossed a painted white block the trooper started a stopwatch. When the vehicle crossed the next white block he stopped the stopwatch. Then he inputted the time into a formula which computed the vehicle’s speed. The Trooper then radioed down to another officer to stop my client and ticket him.

Seems legit. However, the formula used to compute speed is completely time dependent and the speed computation changes greatly by the second. In my case, the Trooper admitted that the cars looked like little dots from his vantage point in the air. If the cars looked like dots you can guess what the little painted white blocks looked like (assuming they are really even visible). Moreover, the Trooper admitted in addition to flying the airplane and watching traffic out the side window of the aircraft, he ran three stopwatches simultaneously. On top of it all, the the curvature of the earth actually distorts how you view things from the air to the ground.

I argued that any one of these factors, let alone all of them together, cast doubt that the Trooper’s speed computation was accurate beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury agreed and found my client not guilty. So next time you get a speeding ticket, make sure it didn’t come from the air. If it did, call Stowers & Sarcone – 515.224.7446.

4th Amendment Suppression Motion: Case Dismissed

4th amendment traffic stop

Firearm and Drug Possession Case Dismissed

On January 12, 2018, Dean Stowers obtained the dismissal of a client’s firearm and drug possession case.  Dean successfully argued that the officer did not have probable cause to pull over the Defendant’s vehicle after the officer gave conflicting reasons for the stop.

Probable Cause

Law enforcement must have probable cause  or reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle.  In this case, during courtroom testimony the officer stated that he stopped the vehicle for speeding. However, video from his dash cam revealed he never mentioned speeding as a reason for the stop.  In fact, he asserted on video that he stopped the vehicle for suspected activity in a previous altercation.  Additionally, the Court determined from the video that the Defendant was not speeding, and as a result it was not legal for the officer to stop his vehicle.

Suppression of Evidence  

When an Iowa court concludes evidence was discovered through a constitutional violation, it orders the evidence suppressed. That means the State cannot used any information it learned or obtained as a result of the constitutional violation. In this case, where all of the information was derived from the unconstitutional traffic stop, there was simply no evidence left upon which the prosecution could sustain a charge. Hence, the prosecution dismissed the case.

Iowa Criminal Defense Attorneys

Law enforcement officers make unlawful traffic stops every single day.  The attorneys at Stowers and Sarcone know your constitutional rights and have a dedicated track record of holding law enforcement to the proper procedures.  Don’t let a potential defense to your case go unnoticed!  Contact us today at 515 224 7446.

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.

Interdiction Case Win at the Iowa Court of Appeals

win court appeals interdiction case

Today, the Iowa Court of Appeals released its opinion in State v. Campbell. Dean Stowers of our firm, Stowers & Sarcone, PLC, argued this case in the District Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals.

The Iowa State Patrol stopped Mr. Campbell on Interstate 80 in Adair County. The alleged reason for the stop –  speeding. However, the Patrol had ulterior motives. The Troopers engaged in a suspicionless, drug interdiction investigation during the traffic stop. Invasive questioning totally unrelated to the actual reason for the traffic stop (speeding) is the hallmark of a drug interdiction investigation. Questions center on travel plans, cost of travel, personal history and characteristics, etc. The police use these questions to generate allegedly inconsistent statements. Inconsistencies allegedly indicate criminal activity. At that point the police search the vehicle, run a drug dog, etc.

Recent decisions of the  United States Supreme Court  (Rodriguez) and the Iowa Supreme Court have helped curb this practice. Though, not all police agencies have accepted these new limits. Iowa’s seminal case is another Stowers & Sarcone, PLC victory – In The Matter of Property Seized from Pardee. Today’s case is the latest in a series of successful interdiction appeals which includes State v. Hanrahan.

In today’s case, the Iowa Court of Appeals relied on the decisions in Rodriguez and Pardee to hold that the Trooper’s unrelated interdiction investigation unconstitutionally prolonged the stop beyond what was necessary to complete the stop’s mission; writing a speed citation. Therefore, the Trooper’s actions violated the 4th Amendment and Article 1 Section 8 (Iowa Constitution) prohibition on unreasonable seizures.

In the District Court Campbell was convicted of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Today’s ruling vacates his sentence and reverses his conviction. We anticipate the case will be dismissed by the trial court in the near future due to a lack of admissible evidence.

Congratulations to Dean and the team at Stowers & Sarcone, PLC. If you or a loved one are stopped and subjected to an invasive, unconstitutional interdiction investigation, call us today! 515.224.7446

Iowa Constitution: Iowa Traffic Stop Law Changes

Iowa traffic stop lawyer

Police traffic stops are the subject of intense debate under the Iowa Constitution. Article 1 Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution is almost identical to the 4th Amendment. Both prevent unreasonable police searches and seizures. However, the protections guaranteed by the two constitutions are vastly different. The Iowa Supreme Court has afforded more protection to Iowans than the U.S. Supreme Court.

Article 1 Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution states:

Personal security-searches and seizures. Section 8. The 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.

In State v. Coleman, decided February 10, 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court held under Article 1 Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution, that police cannot continue a traffic stop when the underlying reason for the stop ceases.

On August 18, 2014 police in Eldridge, Iowa were conducting random computer checks on license plates of passing motorists. When Coleman passed, the check revealed that the registered owner of the vehicle, a female, had a suspended driver’s license. Since, it was dark out, the police could not determine who was driving the vehicle. Upon conducting the traffic stop, the officer realized that the driver was male, not female. Instead of simply explaining his mistake and sending Mr. Coleman off, the officer asked to see Coleman’s driver’s license. Coleman license was suspended. Coleman was arrested and charged with driving while barred.

The initial traffic stop was validly based on reasonable suspicion. However, at the point the officer realized the driver was male and not female, the justification for the stop dissipated. At that point, the Iowa Supreme Court determined the only reasonable course of action under Article 1 Section 8 was to explain the mishap and send Coleman on his way. No further investigation of any kind could be conducted unless supported by independent, reasonable suspicion. Since, the officer asked for Coleman’s license after the justification for the original stop ended, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed his conviction. It is worth noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has never held the 4th Amendment prohibits officer’s from requesting a driver’s license after the reason for the stop has ended.

Article 1 Section 8 is consistently interpreted in a manner that affords Iowans more protections from unreasonable government searches and seizures than the 4th Amendment. Securing such an interpretation requires a skilled lawyer in the lower courts. Creativity and skill ensures that your issue has a chance to make to the Iowa Supreme Court. If you have a traffic stop case call 515.224.7446. Stowers & Sarcone, PLC is here to defend you!

Read the case and tell us what you think in the comments!

What to Do if a Police Officer Stops You?

Do the Police Need a Reason to Pull You Over

I have already blogged about whether police need a reason to pull a driver over.  The answer is—yes.

So, for example, an officer has probable cause to stop a driver.  What that driver should do in this situation?

Generally, being stopped by a police officer is scary no matter what the reason for the stop.  While we all hope that police officers will be fair and just, citizen rights are not always respected.  Specifically, during drug interdiction stops.  However, it is important to avoid doing anything that could risk your safety or your freedom.

General guidelines for dealing with police: always be respectful and watch what you say and what you do.  What you say “can and will be used against you in court” and can give the police an excuse to arrest you.  Do not interfere with a police officer.  Do not argue with a police officer, do not touch a police officer.  Do not run from a police officer.  Do not make any incriminating statements regarding the incident.

It is not a crime to refuse to answer questions, but refusing to answer may make the officer suspicious that an offense was committed.  Police may pat down your clothing if they suspect you of concealing a weapon.  Be clear that you do not consent to any further search.

What to do once you are under arrest or you believe that you are under arrest:

Ask if you are under arrest.  If you are, you have the right to know why.  If you are detained or arrested, you don’t have to answer any questions outside of typical booking questions, such as your name, address, etc.  ASK FOR YOUR ATTORNEY ONCE YOU ARE DETAINED OR ARRESTED.  Do so in a very clear manner.  For example, don’t say: “should I have an attorney for this?” do say: “I want my attorney now.”  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.  Do not say anything further.

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!

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.

How Police Conduct Drug Interdiction Investigations

2000px-I-80_(IA)_map.svgThis is a new post about criminal interdiction investigations. Today, I am going to discuss how police conduct drug interdiction investigations during traffic stops on Iowa roads. I will break this topic in two posts. In the first post, I will explain how cops chose what cars they should stop. In the second post, I will discuss what happens to a driver after the officer stops the car.

How do cops choose what cars to stop? First, cops are trained to look for cars that they believe belong to drug smugglers. Of course, for a cop almost any car will look suspicious if they want it to be suspicious.

For example, in Iowa, a car that travels on I-80 from Colorado or another western state is suspicious because police officers assume that Colorado and its western neighbors are “drug source” states. The theory is that drug dealers travel west with money to buy drugs and back east with the drugs. That is why police target out-of-state plated vehicles. In addition to state-of-origin the police also look for other “signs” or “indicators” that a driver might be transporting drugs. These so-called “indicators” often involve perfectly innocent activity.

For instance, a cop trained in drug interdiction may find a driver who has both hands on the steering wheel highly suspicious. Driving 10 miles under the speed limit or staying in the slow lane is suspicious as well. The police might also say they believe that it is suspicious if you drive an old pickup truck which happens to be in good condition. There are any number of completely innocent factors which a trained interdiction officer may find “suspicious”. Of course, common sense tells you that this is complete hogwash. If any of this has you surprised, just click the following link and read about it. Heck, even a driver who is well dressed might be suspicious.

If a cop observes any of these or other “indicators”, he’ll try to stop the car; usually for a minor traffic violation. i.e. driving 1 mph over a speed limit or driving to closely to another car. Even a minor violation gives an officer probable cause to stop a motorist.

Once the car is parked on the side of the highway the second phase of the drug interdiction traffic stop begins. In the next post, I will discuss what cops do during the actual drug interdiction traffic stop. Again, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach me at (515) 224-7446.