- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court will determine whether some tactics used by state troopers to nab drug traffickers are legal.

The state’s high court heard arguments Thursday in the request for review by an attorney for Robert Pardee, who had more than $33,000 in cash seized by the Iowa State Patrol following a 2012 traffic stop, the Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1NK4UvG ).

Earlier this year, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that Iowa government officials could keep the cash, even though Pardee was acquitted of a marijuana possession charge. The appeals court said the stop that led to the Pardee’s arrest was pretextual, but didn’t violate his right to travel and be free from unreasonable searches.

Pardee was a passenger in a vehicle with California plates pulled over on Interstate 80 by a trooper working on an Iowa State Patrol interdiction team. Those teams target cars with plates from “drug source states” - such as California, Arizona, Washington and Oregon - for minor traffic violations, such as window tint and license plate frame infractions. But the teams’ real purpose is to investigate potential illicit drug and other criminal activity, and the stops often lead to vehicle searches and the seizure of drugs and cash.

The vehicle Pardee was in was stopped for a non-working taillight and following a semi too closely. After the stop, the trooper insisted on searching the car, saying it smelled of air freshener. Investigators said the occupants appeared nervous and that they had criminal histories related to drugs.

After a canine alerted to the odor of narcotics, troopers seized a small amount of marijuana, $33,100 in cash and ledgers presumably listing drug amounts sold, their prices and names of their buyers.

Pardee’s lawyer, Nicholas Sarcone, argued before the state Supreme Court that the patrol’s tactics violate the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

“This case is about the systemic exploitation by law enforcement, specifically the Iowa State Patrol, of the routine traffic stop for purposes of engaging in suspicionless general criminal investigations,” Sarcone said.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Jean Pettinger countered that courts shouldn’t necessarily consider an officer’s motivation for pulling over a vehicle, as long as a driver is committing some sort of violation.

The high court will issue an opinion in the case at a later date.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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