The Iowa Supreme Court says a drug bust made by a State Trooper after stopping a car for a minor traffic violation was not legal.
State Trooper Eric Vander Weil was in Powesheik County watching for out-of-state vehicles on Interstate 80 in June of 2012 as part of an effort to locate drugs being transported across the state.
He saw a car with California license plates and pulled it over for having a non-working taillight. The trooper wrote out two traffic warnings and after talking with the driver and passenger, he felt something was up.
Trooper Vander Weil said that driver John Saccento and passenger Robert Pardee were nervous when he spoke to them. He also detected the strong odor of air freshener and saw a small can of air freshener on the floor of the car. There were other items in the car, such as a bag of trash and a sleeping bag on the back seat, which led him to believe the men were “traveling hard, not taking any time to throw away their trash and make any unnecessary stops.”
Saccento said he was moving back to New Jersey from California and was making the move in multiple trips and that he was currently returning from his second trip from California to New Jersey.
The trooper asked for permission to search the car and have a drug dog check the car. Saccento refused both. The trooper called in the drug dog. The dog found marijuana and $33,000 dollars in cash in the car. Both men were arrested and the state filed a forfeiture notice to seize the money.
Pardee, was later acquitted of a marijuana possession charge and filed to get the money back saying it was illegally seized. He argued the approximately 25 minute traffic stop was well beyond the time needed to write the warnings.
The Iowa Supreme Court on a 5-2 vote ruled the stop violated Pardee’s constitutional rights. Based on recent cases with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Iowa court says the trooper developed reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity only by prolonging the initial traffic stop beyond the time reasonably necessary to execute the traffic violation warnings.
Chief Justice Mark Cady was one of the three judges to disagree with the majority ruling, saying the nervous of Pardee and the driver, the smell of air freshener in their car and other indicators were enough to prolong the stop to look for drugs.
Here’s the full ruling: Drug bust ruling PDF