Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dangerous Franklin County Vehicle Search

State v. McManemy, No. 05-2014 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 31, 2007)

A Franklin County DNR officer saw a man with a gun get out of a Suburban parked by the side of the road. Because it is illegal to carry an uncased firearm in a vehicle, the officer stopped and got out to investigate. The officer recognized the man as McManemy. Asking for the gun, the officer unloaded it and then walked over to the Suburban where he saw one Callan sitting in the front seat.

A number of cased weapons were observed and an exposed gun was on the console. The officer issued citations to both people and confiscated nine long guns. McManemy mentioned something about a pistol but denied he had one. The officer, concerned for his safety went over to the vehicle and observed a green bag that was large enough to hold a pistol. He asked McManemy to open the bag, but McManemy turned his back and leaned over the bag. The officer ordered him out of the vehicle and McManemy dove in the snowbank with the bag, stuffing items into the snow.

The officer observed a baggie of methamphetamine, called for backup and arrested McManemy. The search of the vehicle recovered a pistol and nineteen grams of methamphetamine.

McManemy moved to suppress evidence seized in the warrantless search of his vehicle, arguing that there was no probable cause and exigent circumstances.

The court of appeals disagreed, finding that the exigency requirement was satisfied by a movable vehicle, the occupants are alerted, and the evidence might never be found if a warrant must be obtained. Probable cause to search the vehicle was satisfied by the officer's reasonable concern for public safety.

This situation could have ended very, very badly for a solo officer.

We often see "coyote hunters" in rural Iowa, and the record seems to suggest that more often than not the quest is for some midnight venison. Nevertheless, the prudent officer will handle any vehicle search where there is even a suggestion that weapons are involved with the greatest of care and concern for his or her security, as well as that of the vehicle's occupants.

As it happened a substantial amount of methamphetamine was recovered, far more than would be consistent with personal use. People have been killed for a lot less.

Stay safe out there.


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