The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled the suspicion that a driver might have a suspended license is enough reason for a police to stop and search a vehicle. The case involved Robert Vance, who was stopped by a Waterloo police officer while driving the car of a female acquaintance.
The officer recognized the car as the woman’s and confirmed on his in-car computer that her license was suspended. The officer could not tell who was driving the car and pulled it over to find out. The officer noticed what appeared to be freshly made meth on the front seat of the car.
A search of the car turned up chemicals and tools in the trunk for a meth lab. Vance was convicted of possession of precursors with the intent to make meth. Vance appealed, saying the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop the car because he did not know the identity of the driver.
The Iowa Supreme Court upheld Vance’s conviction, saying it is reasonable for an officer to infer the registered owner of a vehicle will be driving it most of the time, and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution requires only that officers act reasonably in a search. The court said to forbid an officer from being able to make such a stop would seriously limit an officer’s ability to investigate suspension violations.
And finally the high court said allowing the officer to infer the registered owner is the driver, absent any evidence to the contrary, ensures the safety of the roadways and of law enforcement. This ruling was also applied to a Muscatine County case where a man was stopped by an officer who believed his license was suspended and the man was then found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.