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Iowa Supreme Court: Officer’s Delay of Traffic Stop to Investigate Other Matters Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

The Supreme Court of Iowa reversed a motion court’s denial of a motion to suppress. The Court held a police officer failed to develop a reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity before unreasonably prolonging a traffic stop.

Johnson County Sheriff Office Deputy Cody O’Hare was responding to another call on eastbound Interstate 80 when he came upon a rental car driven by Juan Salcedo. O’Hare was cruising at about 75 mph when he came upon Salcedo, who was in the left most lane at a speed of about 60 mph in a 70 mph zone. Salcedo failed to move to the right, and after about three miles, O’Hare initiated a traffic stop for traveling too slowly in the left-hand lane in violation of Iowa Code § 321.297(2).

Once pulled over, Salcedo handed over his documentation and the rental agreement. He was pat searched and sat in the front of O’Hare’s patrol car as requested. O’Hare inquired about Salcedo’s travel plans, which he provided in detail. Although O’Hare spent virtually the entire time he was talking with Salcedo flipping through the rental agreement, he failed to notice that the person who signed the agreement wasn’t present in the car. 

Body camera footage showed that O’Hare made no effort to process the traffic infraction, but he requested assistance. When back up arrived seven minutes after the stop began, O’Hare was disappointed that a drug dog was not available. He then questioned the passenger. After about 14 minutes, O’Hare received Sacedo’s consent to search the vehicle, yet he had still made no effort to process the traffic infraction.

That search uncovered three cell phones in the passenger compartment and 82 pounds of marijuana in the trunk. Salcedo and his passenger were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and failure to affix a drug tax stamp under Iowa law. Salcedo moved to suppress the evidence. The motion court denied that motion, and Salcedo appealed. He raised four issues, but the Court addressed only the issue related to the scope and duration of the traffic stop since it was dispositive of the case.

The Court began its analysis by explaining that the “detention of an individual during a traffic stop, even if brief and for a limited purpose, is a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.” A traffic violation provides police with the necessary probable cause to stop a motorist and is thus a reasonable seizure. State v. Aderholdt, 545 N.W.2d 559 (Iowa 1996). Once a motorist is lawfully stopped, police may make reasonable inquiries related to the purpose for the stop, i.e., the traffic infraction, and also inquiries related to safety concerns. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015). “Authority for the seizure … ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are — or reasonably should have been — completed.” Delaware v. Pardee, 440 U.S. 648 (1979).

The initial lawful traffic stop may be expanded to suspected criminal activity unrelated to the traffic infraction, but “the officer must identify ‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts,’ amount to reasonable suspicion that further investigation is warranted.” United States v. Murillo-Salgado, 854 F.3d 407 (8th Cir. 2017). The determination of whether reasonable suspicion exists is based upon the totality of the circumstances encountered by the officer during the traffic stop. State v. McIver, 858 N.W.2d 699 (Iowa 2015).   

At the suppression hearing, O’Hare testified that he knew from the time of the stop that he would be investigating issues other than the traffic infraction. He admitted, “I was never — never entered information into a traffic citation.” The Court noted the body camera shows him “repeatedly thumbing through the rental agreement” without “any attempt to gain understanding of the document.” Such “incessant page flipping appears to be a stalling tactic to keep the conversation going until the drug dog arrived,” the Court determined. The Court concluded that “Deputy O’Hare’s complete lack of effort to address Salcedo’s specific traffic infraction” transformed the initial lawful traffic stop into an unlawfully prolonged one. Consequently, the Court ruled that the “delay of Salcedo’s stop was measurable, unreasonable, and in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.”

Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: State v. Salcedo, 935 N.W. 572 (Iowa 2019). 

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State v. Salcedo

 

 

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