Monday, January 21, 2008

Good Police Work: Reasonable Cause

State v. Wilkes, no. 07-0824 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 16, 2008)

Wilkes was parked in a quarry owned by the city of Atlantic, after dark. Police officers approached the vehicle and asked for identification. At some point the opdor of alcohol was noticed, Wilkes was asked to perform field sobriety tests, and he was arrested for OWI.

Wilkes moved to suppress the evidence before trial, arguing an illegal search, and the court agreed. This appeal followed.

Police said that they had no suspicion of wrongdoing when they approached the vehicle, and there was no evidence that the quarry was a high crime area. A lone vehicle in a parking lot with the engine running does not support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that would supply reasonable cause.

The court concluded that Wilkes was seized, because under the circumstances a reasonable person would not have felt he was free to leave. There was also no reasonable community caretaking argument to be made because there was no evidence that Wilkes needed assistance.

This case rings a bell for me because I lost one at a suppression hearing under rather similar circumstances. Officers set up across the street from a cooperative that had a lot of anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks. There'd been thefts taking place on a regular basis. So one night a guy pulls in there at 3:00 am and parks with his lights off for a little while, pulls out, and goes down the road. He gets stopped and he's drunk enough to be charged.

The argument centered on whether the co-op was a high crime area. It didn't matter to the court that I had the manager of the co-op testifying that thefts of ammonia were a daily occurence at that location and we were in the heyday of meth labs in the area. It was merely whether there was reasonable cause to stop the guy.

Reasonable cause in a vehicle stop is a judgment call most times. I would think that a stronger argument could be made by inquiring of the owner of the property whether it was open to the public or not, before the stop was made-that could certainly provide a higher quantum of reasonable cause.

On the other hand, in both cases a couple of drunks in motor vehicles were taken off the street and forced to sober up, as well as put to a great deal of inconvenience and saddled with an NCIC arrest recort that will be of use at some future time.

That's not a bad day's work when you think about it.


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