5/31/2018Iowa Supreme Court Cracks Down On Auto Seizures
Unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision restores due process protections in roadside seizure cases.
Police in Iowa may no longer seize the cash from passing motorists and put the burden on drivers to prove that they deserve their money back. The state Supreme Court on Friday delivered a unanimous blow against the increasingly common law enforcement tactic by restoring due process rights to drivers who had their property taken even though they were never charged with a crime.
On September 12, 2015, Iowa Department of Transportation Sergeant Kevin Killpack spotted a 1999 Ford Expedition with New York license plates traveling on Interstate 80. His first thought was that the SUV must be carrying drugs. He paced the vehicle and claimed it was traveling 4 MPH over the 70 MPH speed limit to justify a traffic stop.
After the Ford pulled over, Sergeant Killpack began searching the rear wheel well of the rusty vehicle. He found what looked like a compartment, so he ordered the driver, Jean Carlos Herrera, and the passenger, Bryan Riccaldo, to get out. The pair gave conflicting accounts of what they were doing, so Sergeant Killpack asked if he could search the SUV. They said no. The officer then called in a drug sniffing dog that alerted and found cash and the remnants of marijuana.
The Ford had been carrying $44,900 in cash in a well-hidden compartment, and the state of Iowa wanted to keep it. Yet the state had no evidence that Herrera and Rodriguez had committed any crime. Under state law, seized property can only be returned after its owner provides a detailed account of how he came into possession of the property, who he bought it from, and all related details. That requirement, the high court found, violates the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. As a procedural matter, the justices also found that the state has to establish that the initial search and traffic stop was lawful before deciding the forfeiture claim.
"If Herrera ultimately succeeds on his motion to suppress, the state will be unable to rely on the suppressed evidence in proving the probable cause required for the forfeiture," Justice Thomas D. Waterman wrote for the court.
The court also ordered attorneys fees be paid for the owner of the Ford, noting that the state offered its full resistance to any attempt to have property returned, only to give it up without a judge's ruling in an attempt to avoid triggering the requirement that the state pay the prevailing party's legal bills.
"Allowing fee awards under chapter 809A when the owner prevails after contested proceedings furthers the legislative purpose to incentivize attorneys to represent citizens seeking return of their property from the government," Justice Waterman wrote. "This will help level the playing field for persons contesting government seizures of private property."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.