Updated: 20 hours ago
Police in Iowa stop motorists for a variety of reasons including “pretext.” A pretext is a simple, but fictitious, reason which an officer might otherwise overlook if he or she did not otherwise suspect a driver was impaired. A pretextual reason could include a license plate light, registration sticker, or other minor traffic violation like stopping partially over the white stop line at an intersection or momentarily crossing the white dotted lines in two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction—none of these infractions is typically worth an officer’s time. While law enforcement professes the duty to cite all law violations, there is no possible way they could stop every motorist who speeds five mph over, who doesn’t signal, or who momentarily and harmlessly crosses a white dotted line when no other traffic is present. When they do so, it is usually to make an OWI (DUI) arrest. They deny quotas for these arrests but, generally speaking, they are more important to law enforcement than, say, an expired registration sticker.
However, both the Iowa Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court have held that Officer Friendly is legally permitted to seize a motorist for any law violation—no matter how minor. Therefore, if an officer has a mere hunch that a motorist is impaired, but has probable cause to believe that the driver is speeding, operates without headlights, turns without signaling, or failed to renew registration, then the officer has permission from the courts to make the stop, considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I § 8 of the Iowa Constitution.
In so doing, they get the camel’s head in the tent, so to speak. What that means is that Phase One of DUI detection is to make the stop so that the officer can get to Phase Two—personal contact to observe the now-cliché “bloodshot watery eyes, strong odor of alcoholic beverage, and slurred speech”—all purported signs of consumption.
Next time, we’ll address Phase Two—the object of Phase One.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for OWI (DUI) in Iowa, contact us.