Iowa – February 3, 2021

Iowa City’s Police Department officials hope new guidance on traffic stops will prioritize public safety and decrease negative and unnecessary interactions with law enforcement personnel. Referencing the collection and analysis of traffic stop data involving minorities, the city is entertaining a means toward minimizing disproportionate policing of non-white drivers. If individuals feel they have had their 4th Amendment rights violated during a traffic stop, they should consult with a police brutality attorney.

Motor vehicle search.

Law enforcement cannot search a motor vehicle during a traffic stop in the State of Iowa unless they have probable cause to do so, which means they have visual evidence needed to conduct searches, make arrests. or go through the procedures of obtaining a search warrant. The Iowa State high court had ruled that officers could not detain people for unnecessarily long periods of time writing traffic tickets while awaiting the arrival of drug detection dogs, unless there was compelling evidence of wrongdoing.


The most common exceptions to the 4th Amendment right regarding search and seizure activity include:

  • when someone is caught in the act of committing a crime or there is probable cause; and
  • during a pat down search, when an officer believes that a person is behaving in a suspicious manner to alert them to an ongoing, or future criminal act.

Police and 4th Amendment violations.

In theory, a warrant is required before police can search an area, but there are daily exceptions to the practice of obtaining a warrant in communities nationwide.  Police can search automobiles without warrants, they can detain people on the street without them “stop and frisk,” and they can always search or seize in an emergency without going to a judge.  The arguable idea here is “in an emergency” whereby these standards need to be placed out in front of and judged in a court of law.  An attorney can assist in determining if an individual’s rights were violated.

Police are in grey territory versus 4th Amendment rights when they:

  1. Claim to hear a noise, or someone reports a noise, and they conduct a search on private property.
  2. Make a person get out of the car during a traffic stop and frisk them if they have not done anything suspicious. If they have a cell phone in a pocket that information could be illegally viewed and if there is incriminating evidence, a police officer may then expand a search.
  3. Searching a car during a traffic stop because of suspicious driver movements, or due to a bias-based profiling stop
  4. Entering someone’s home who may not be familiar with the law, and conducting a search without permission because access was granted based on wearing a badge.

Seek legal counsel.

When individuals, or loved ones feel they are a victim of illegal search and seizure activity that leads to personal injury, or harm, they should consult with an Iowa police brutality attorney to review a case for a possible legal claim against the officer or the department.