Monday, October 09, 2006

Evidence Suppressed in a Vehicle Stop

In State v. Nieves-Rivera, 05-1873 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 21, 2006) a Sioux City officer stopped a vehicle because he could not see that the license plate was illuminated. The officer was approximately 100 feet back when he 'lit up' the driver.

During the stop it was determined the driver provided a false name, had no license and he was arrested. A search incident to arrest led to the discovery of methamphetamine. The driver moved to suppress the evidence seized, based on there being no reasonable cause to initiate a vehicle stop.

Section 321.388 of the Code clearly specifies that the legible distance for illumination is fifty feet.

Based on State v. Malloy, 453 N.W.2d 243 (Iowa Ct. App. 1990) which states that when the facts stated giving rise to an arrest do not exist, no reasonable cause exists to stop the defendant, the trial court granted the defendant's motion, and the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed.

The officer's stop of the vehicle was not objectively reasonable given the fact that he did not get closer than 100 feet to determine whether the license plate light was sufficient to illuminate the plate before initiating a stop.

The takehome from the case is clear. It's best to know the formal requirement of 321.388 before relying on it as the predicate for a vehicle stop.


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