- Associated Press - Saturday, December 12, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa Supreme Court ruling could curb the ability of state police agencies to seize cash and property from motorists under state and federal civil forfeiture laws intended to hurt the bottom line of those who traffic in illicit drugs.

The 5-2 decision Friday from the state’s high court will limit the ability of state patrol troopers and deputies to conduct warrantless vehicle searches, the Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/1NMIh98 ).

The ruling came in the case of Robert Pardee, who’s fighting to get back $33,100 that a trooper seized after stopping a vehicle in which Pardee was a passenger in 2012 and finding a small amount of marijuana during a search. The trooper based the search partly on his observation that the car had a “lived-in” look that could indicate cross-country drug trafficking.

But Justice Edward Mansfield wrote for the majority that the observation was “unremarkable” and not evidence of criminal activity.

In fact, Pardee was acquitted of a drug charge in the case.

Pardee’s attorney, Nick Sarcone, said the ruling will “dismantle” authorities’ ability to use questionable factors for vehicle searches that come up regularly in cases he handles.

But the Iowa Department of Public Safety downplayed any effects the ruling would have on future seizures.

“It does not ‘dismantle’ anything,” a department statement released by State Patrol Sgt. Nathan Ludwig said. “It modifies the law - as most cases do - and we will continue to do our work based on the guidance provided by the courts.”

Critics of civil asset forfeiture laws say the laws force people to come to court to prove they legally obtained their money or property, switching the burden of proof from prosecutors to the people whose money is seized. Proponents say the laws play an important part in stopping drug trafficking.

Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justice Bruce Zagar dissented from Friday’s majority ruling, saying the trooper had reasonable suspicion to detain the vehicle for a search.


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

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