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UI law professor says U.S. Supreme Court will side with Monroe, Iowa
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa law professor who filed a friend
of the court brief supporting a Monroe, Iowa man's claim that he was unreasonably
searched by a Newton police officer in 1996, says the U.S. Supreme Court
will likely rule in the man's favor.
UI College of Law professor James Tomkovicz filed the amicus curiae
brief in the case argued before the Court on Nov. 3 and is listed as the
attorney of record for the case. Tomkovicz, who specializes in criminal
law and criminal procedure, says the Fourth Amendment guards against invasive
and offensive searches.
Tomkovicz agrees with Patrick Knowles, who claims the police officer
who stopped him for speeding had no right to search his car simply because
he had been issued a traffic citation for speeding. The officer found marijuana
and a pipe in Knowles' car. A state trial judge later sentenced Knowles
to 90 days in jail.
The brief was written at the request of the American Civil Liberties
Union and the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, which have sided with Knowles.
Although an Iowa statute authorizes officers to search motorists and the
insides of their vehicles whenever they issue a traffic citation, the Fourth
Amendment requires searches to be "reasonable."
"Full searches of the body are pretty intrusive. At a minimum,
there needs to be probable cause or a lawful custodial arrest. In Mr. Knowles'
case, there was no probable cause to search for contraband or a weapon,
and the officer had decided not to arrest him. Consequently, there was
no reason to assume that Mr. Knowles would destroy evidence, threaten the
officer's safety, or pose any other kind of danger. It's a painfully simple
case," Tomkovicz says.
The brief makes three arguments against the constitutionality of "searches
incident to traffic citations." It maintains that there is no common
law authority for such searches, that Supreme Court precedents require
a "custodial" arrest and that the government's interests in searching
traffic offenders do not outweigh the costs to personal privacy imposed
by such searches.
"The Fourth Amendment extends constitutional protection to the
privacy of our persons and our vehicles. That privacy cannot be violated
unless the government demonstrates superior interests.
In Knowles' case, and in the case of other Iowa motorists cited for
minor traffic offenses, there are no demonstrated government interests
that justify the intrusive searches permitted by the Iowa statute,"
Should the Court rule in the government's favor in the Knowles case,
other states could see the ruling as an invitation to conduct similar searches.
If the Court instead concludes that the Iowa law is unconstitutional,
as Tomkovicz predicts, the ruling will inform the states that traffic citations
do not provide an adequate reason for searching motorists. Iowa, and a
few other states that authorize such searches, would have to change their
laws to conform to the ruling, Tomkovicz says.
It is not certain when the Court will issue its ruling in the case,
but Tomkovicz says he would not be surprised to see an opinion handed down
before January. While the ruling may not have a dramatic effect on most
routine traffic stops, it could at least restrain officers from to stopping
and searching motorists based on inappropriate variables, such as race,