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  • David A. Cmelik Law PLC

Bad weather stops yield OWI arrests

snow plow

In January 2020, we know the roads in Iowa, roads have been partially or fully snow and ice covered at intersections. Those who slide through intersections, briefly kiss the curb, or unintentionally slide to the left or the right outside their lane or around a corner arguably are doing nothing out of the ordinary for someone in the snow belt after a storm covers the roadway. Officer Friendly will use this pretext to stop motorists he or she sees as a potential OWI (drunk driving) suspect. A recent Iowa Supreme Court case indicated that this tactic is still legal. Under Iowa law, an officer who witnesses a violation of the rules of road, located at Chapter 321, may temporarily seize a motorist to issue a citation. In doing so, a law enforcement officer is engaging in the first phase of OWI investigation—vehicle in motion—and will make a decision whether to activate emergency top lights and make personal contact with the driver. After stopping the car, they will take note of sight, sound, and smell—the three S’s in the second phase of OWI investigation. Usually, this entails looking for bloodshot “watery” eyes (note that they always say bloodshot and watery eyes but bloodshot AND watery eyes are not together a federally recognized sign of alcohol consumption—just bloodshot), slurred or thick tongued speech, and the odor of alcohol emanating from the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Upon these observations, the officer will escalate any citation for a minor traffic violation to an OWI investigation. The reason for a stop rests on a case-by-case analysis of whether the officer’s actions in activating emergency top lights and effectuating a “seizure” of the driver’s person was reasonable under the circumstances. An officer only needs reasonable suspicion to believe a crime is afoot or contraband is present to temporarily seize a motorist—as in the case of believing a driver wandering off the road a few times is impaired—or probable cause to believe that the motorist committed even a minor traffic violation. If a motorist blows a stop sign—even if they do so with their brakes locked up on glare ice—Officer Friendly will argue they failed to obey a traffic control device and, further, failed to maintain control. Conducting a traffic stop under these conditions may not seem fair since everyone has been in this position—and it isn’t a sign of insobriety—but it is currently legal for the officer to seize the motorist and make initial face-to-face contact to write a citation or a warning. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Linn, Johnson, Black Hawk, or other Iowa community or county, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at or 319-389-1889. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to an lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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