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Supreme Court to Review Searches Without Consent or Probable Cause During Traffic Stops


March-April 1998

On March 23, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear argument next term on whether police officers have blanket permission to search a vehicle without the driver's consent during a routine stop for a traffic or equipment violation (Knowles v. Iowa, No. 97-7597) (Michael Kirkland, "Court to Review Vehicle Searches," United Press International wire, March 23, 1998; "Supreme Court to Decide Search Laws," AP wire, March 23, 1998).

On March 6, 1996, Patrick Knowles was pulled over in Newton, and cited for speeding. Pursuant to an Iowa statute, the officer then detained Knowles and thoroughly searched him and his vehicle. The officer found marijuana and a pipe and Knowles was arrested. At his trial, the officer conceded that he had no probable cause to search the driver or his car, and that Knowles did not consent to the search.

Knowles unsuccessfully challenged the evidence under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures. He was found guilty of possession of marijuana and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. In October 1997, the Iowa Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-4, affirmed the trial judge's refusal to suppress the evidence (State v. Knowles, 569 N.W. 2d 601 (Iowa, 1997)), and upheld Iowa's law allowing a vehicle search after a traffic stop (Code of Iowa (1997), Chapter 805.1(4)).

Knowles appealed to the Supreme Court, saying the Iowa high court had "dispensed with any case-by-case consideration surrounding the search." Knowles' appeal argues that blanket authority to search motorists "almost certainly invites police to utilize the power in a discriminatory manner."

Knowles' attorney - Maria Ruhtenberg, Rosenberg & Associates, 601 Locust, Suite 1022, Des Moines, IA 50309, Tel: (515) 245-3828, Fax: (515) 247-2207.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller - Hoover State Office Building, 1300 East Walnut St., Des Moines, IA 50319, Tel: (515) 281-5164, Fax: (515) 281-4209.