Iowa Judicial Building

The Iowa Supreme Court says drug evidence discovered during a pat down by a police officer without a warrant can be used in court.

A Dubuque officer said he felt baggies of what he believed to be drugs in the pocket of Earnest Hunt Junior while patting him down to check for weapons after a traffic stop. The bags contained crack –but the district court suppressed the evidence – saying there was no clear indication of what was in the baggies.

The Supreme Court says the drugs found could be used as evidence based on what’s called the “plain feel” doctrine. It says officers can determine if an item may be drugs based on their experience and the feel of the item in someone’s pocket. The case now goes back to the district court.

Justice Brent Appel wrote a dissent to the opinion. He says this case involves a double-barreled risk of unconstitutional invasion of privacy arising from a warrantless pretextual stop for a minor traffic violation followed by a warrantless search for weapons based not on probable cause but diluted reasonable suspicion under the sprawling doctrine.

Here’s the full ruling: Plain Feel ruling PDF