Iowa State Troopers Target Out-of-State Drivers

October 22, 2013

Drivers with out-of-state plates are much more likely to be stopped by the Iowa State Patrol when they drive in the state.

The Des Moines Register reviewed about 22,000 traffic warnings and tickets issued by the State Patrol between 2008 and the end of last year. About 86 percent of those tickets and warnings went to out-of-state drivers.

Drivers from California, Colorado and Illinois – all states with a significant drug trade – received one third of the 16,375 warnings and 5,685 violations.

Some lawyers and motorists question whether the State Patrol’s interest in out-of-state drivers is warranted, and they say troopers sometimes use minor offenses to conduct questionable interrogations.

But officials defend the State Patrol’s practices and say the state where a car is from is only one factor considered. Sgt. Rob Mordini said troopers are also looking for suspicious behavior on the part of drivers.

Mordini said any number of factors may trigger additional investigation, including extreme perspiration, dilated pupils and conflicting stories between drivers and passengers.

And Mordini said troopers are focused on more than the drug trade when they are making traffic stops. He said some of the investigations produce evidence related to other crimes, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

“There’s a perception with interdiction teams that we’re focused almost entirely on drugs,” he said. “The hardest part about what we do is that the successes aren’t public.”

Iowa attorneys Dean Stowers and Nicholas Sarcone analyzed the citation and violations data for the Des Moines Register, and they say it appears that some state troopers are going too far.

“As it stands right now, there does not appear to be any willingness on behalf of the State Patrol to adjust their practices,” Stowers said.

The Iowa Court of Appeals recently overturned the drug conviction of a man after Stowers and Sarcone successfully argued the search of his car was improper.

In Iowa, courts have ruled that officers must have motorists’ consent before they can search their vehicle. And while drivers can be detained during a traffic stop, Iowa law says that further detention is only allowed if an officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

An attorney for the Department of Public Safety, Roxann Ryan, said state troopers receive annual training on the legal limits on their investigations and searches.

And she said the numbers might be affected by the fact that Iowa has a lower speed limit than the surrounding states.

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