Iowa high court: reasonable suspicion, pretextual stops still okay.

Updated: May 31

Is it fair that police can stop a car registered to a barred owner even without knowing the identity or gender of the driver?

June 28, 2019-- The Iowa Supreme Court decided State v. Haas today, holding that it was reasonable for officers to stop a car registered to a barred driver even though the officers did not know the identity or even the gender of the driver. The Court also rejected the Haas defendant's argument that the traffic stop itself was a pretext for unjustifiable suspicion that targeted her.

Police stopped a driver after watching three people, one woman and two men, getting into a car registered to a woman flagged as barred in a police database. The police did not know who was driving. The defendant argued that the traffic stop for driving while barred was a mere pretext to conduct a roving, unjustifiable stop. She also argued that officers lacked even the reasonable suspicion necessary to justify the fake reason for the stop. The Court disagreed.

"Though the officers did not see who was driving the vehicle, it was still reasonable to assume that Haas, as the registered owner of the vehicle, would be doing 'the vast amount of driving,'" wrote the Court.

The Haas court relied heavily on an earlier decision, Vance, in which an officer who: (1) did not know the driver; (2) did not know whether the driver was male or female; and (3) only knew that the registered owner of the vehicle was suspended was authorized to conduct a traffic stop by the Iowa Supreme Court.

"Consequently, we affirm the district court's judgment because there was reasonable suspicion to initiate an investigatory stop of the vehicle Haas was operating," wrote the Court.

FAIRNESS QUESTION: As yourself whether this is fundamentally fair. Furthermore, ask whether this type of decision will result in fewer or more racial profiling traffic stops. The purpose of the law is to treat everyone fairly, equally, and appropriately.

NOTE: This firm had no involvement in the Haas decision.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for OWI or other criminal offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact us for a free initial consultation.

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