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!

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