The language of the United States Constitution is the origin of this phrase “seizure” where the language of the Fourth Amendment reads as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. State v. Tyler, 830 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Iowa 2013). Thus that “old timey” language of “seizure” has endured because law is a creature of things past (as an aside, judges aspire to stare decisis, or, the application of past decisions to current situations to try to make judicial decisions consistent over time and as applied to different people across the board).
A temporary seizure requiring less than probable cause is sometimes called a Terry stop named after an important United States Supreme Court decision of the same name. In Terry, the US Supreme Court held that probable cause is not necessary to temporarily seize a person to dispel reasonable suspicion that a person was armed and dangerous. The Court wrote:
“It does not follow that because an officer may lawfully arrest a person only when he is apprised of facts sufficient to warrant a belief that the person has committed or is committing a crime, the officer is equally unjustified, absent that kind of evidence, in making any intrusions short of an arrest. Moreover, a perfectly reasonable apprehension of danger may arise long before the officer is possessed of adequate information to justify taking a person into custody for the purpose of prosecuting him for a crime.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 26-27 (U.S. 1968). The Iowa Supreme Court explains the difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion: “Perhaps the greatest distinction between a probable cause analysis and a reasonable suspicion analysis is the purpose of the stop. Our decisions have universally held that the purpose of a Terry stop is to investigate crime . . . Conversely, the purpose of a probable cause stop is to seize someone who has already committed a crime . . . . Tyler, 830 N.W.2d at 293. “The principal function of an investigatory stop is toresolve the ambiguity as to whether criminal activity is afoot.’ . . . If the State wants to rely on reasonable suspicion as justification for [a] stop, it must show that [an officer] was attempting to actively investigate whether a crime was occurring and that seizure was required in order to accomplish that purpose.” Tyler, 830 N.W.2d at 298. Even if a reviewing judge believes that an officer lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct a temporary seizure to dispel reasonable suspicion that a crime was afoot, the remedy is not dismissal—it is exclusion, or, suppression of the contested testimony or any exhibits flowing from it following the illegal seizure. This can hamstring a prosecution but not always. For example, there may be other ways to proceed with prosecution without the contested evidence. So, no, it does not mean an automatic dismissal but it can be very important to a case. A blog is not legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading a blog or by sending unsolicited information to an attorney over the Internet.
“Reasonable suspicion” is a lower level of cause than probable cause to believe a crime has been committed or contraband is present.
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