Does an officer need 'probable cause' to pull over someone suspected of OWI (DUI) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?

by David Cmelik


Unfortunately, most people believe that a law enforcement officer “needs” probable cause to conduct a traffic stop, or, a Fourth Amendment “seizure” of your person. In the “olden days,” the Red Coats were fond of stopping people they suspected of being collaborators with the American rebellion. Our founding fathers wrote into the Fourth Amendment, ratified December 15, 1791, well after the revolution, that there shall be no unreasonable searches and ‘seizures.’ 

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Does an officer need 'probable cause' to pull over someone suspected of OWI (DUI) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?

by David Cmelik


Unfortunately, most people believe that a law enforcement officer “needs” probable cause to conduct a traffic stop, or, a Fourth Amendment “seizure” of your person. In the “olden days,” the Red Coats were fond of stopping people they suspected of being collaborators with the American rebellion. Our founding fathers wrote into the Fourth Amendment, ratified December 15, 1791, well after the revolution, that there shall be no unreasonable searches and ‘seizures.’ 

cedar rapids / iowa city criminal defense

Thus, the law since has been that a brief, temporary seizure for the purpose of dispelling or justifying a “reasonable suspicion” that contraband is present or a crime is afoot is not a Fourth Amendment violation.  

However, an officer’s reasons matter. In Tyler, the officer attempted to justify the stop based on minor equipment violations, like a “tinted” license plate (found not to be a violation of the law) and an obstructed license plate. The Iowa Supreme Court rejected that reasoning, stating that the officer clearly called in the plate number to dispatch, and noting that the Government failed to justify the stop under the Iowa Constitution with any other “reasonable suspicion.”

The Iowa Supreme Court noted that “the purpose of a Terry stop is to investigate crime.” State v. Tyler, 830 N.W.2d 288, 293 (Iowa 2013). The Court held that “[i] the State wants to rely on reasonable suspicion as justification for this stop, it must show that [the officer] was attempting to actively investigate whether a crime was occurring and that seizure was required in order to accomplish that purpose.” State v. Tyler, 830 N.W.2d 288, 298 (Iowa 2013).

Officers may attempt to gin up reasonable suspicion by suggesting that a motorist “appeared to be impaired,” taking a page out of an NHTSA training manual that offers platitudes and conclusory assertions about 10 and 2 white knuckle driving, peering close to the windshield, and careful maneuvering. This fluff should not stand as reasonable suspicion and a motorist who is stopped on those grounds owes it to themselves to have a qualified attorney review all reports, recorded video, and recorded audio, to determine whether a motorist is impaired, or driving under the influence (DUI), called Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) in the State of Iowa.
 
If you or a loved one has been unreasonably stopped by law enforcement and the Government is attempting to use the fruits of a search following such a stop to justify prosecution, please contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at http://www.daclawfirm.com for a free ½ hour initial consultation today. Remember, however, that a blog is not legal advice and no attorney client relationship is established by sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet. 

Even though officers don't need probable cause to conduct a traffic stop, they still need a good reason.

In fact, the amendment states, there shall be no “. . . unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”

 The United States Supreme Court has noted that its mid to late twentieth century cases were “unequivocal in saying that reasonable suspicion of criminal activity warrants a temporary seizure for the purpose of questioning limited to the purpose of the stop.” Fla. v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 498, 103 S. Ct. 1319, 1324 (1983)(citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 4, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1871 (1968)).

Moreover, the United States Supreme Court notes that a traffic stop in our modern world (modern since the invention of the automobile, anyway) is a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes:

“A traffic  stop is unquestionably a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 436—37, 104 S. Ct. 3138, 3148, 82 L. Ed. 2d 317, 332—33 (1984);. State v. Tyler, 830 N.W.2d 288, 292 (Iowa 2013)(citing State v. Heminover, 619 N.W.2d 353, 357 (2000) ("When the police stop a car and temporarily detain an individual, the temporary detention is a 'seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.")(abrogated by other grounds)).