- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court has made it significantly more difficult for police to continue to ask questions or even ask for a driver’s license during routine traffic stops if there is no reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed.

In a ruling Friday, the majority of a divided 4-3 court overturned a 30-year-old Iowa legal precedent that said officers could at least ask drivers to produce their license during routine stops.

“We conclude that when the reason for a traffic stop is resolved and there is no other basis for reasonable suspicion, article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution requires that the driver must be allowed to go his or her way without further ado,” wrote Justice Brent Appel in the majority opinion.

The court decision throws out the conviction of an Eldridge man who was stopped in August 2014 by a police officer conducting random checks on license plates of passing cars.

Jayel Antrone Coleman was driving his sister’s car which was flagged when Officer James Morris ran its license plate and records indicated the owner had a suspended license.

He continued the stop even after finding the car’s owner wasn’t driving by asking for Coleman’s license, registration and proof of insurance.

The justices said once Morris determined the car’s driver was not the owner, the reason for the stop was satisfied and further inquiry was unconstitutional.

Appel said unlimited discretion to stop vehicles on the open road have given rise to allegations of racial profiling. The court affirmed that “limitations on searches and seizures by law enforcement protect fundamental values of liberty and human dignity and are a bulwark against arbitrary governmental intrusions into the lives of citizens.”

As it turned out Coleman had no license since he had been barred from driving by the state. His record indicated he’d been arrested two days before the stop for second-offense drunken driving and had a previous record that included driving while barred, driving while suspended and several narcotics convictions.

He was charged with driving while barred and convicted by a Scott County judge but appealed claiming the evidence obtained by the officer was part of an unlawful seizure.

The opinion reveals a deep division among Iowa justices about how they view the balance between law enforcement duties and constitutional limits on police power.

Justice Thomas Waterman, opposing the majority opinion, said Coleman’s stop was not unduly prolonged by the officer’s request to see a driver’s license.

“Until today, a police officer who lawfully stopped a motorist could ask to see his or her driver’s license, especially when the officer knew the driver was not the car’s registered owner,” Waterman said. “Almost all Iowans, I believe, would find this activity completely unobjectionable and, indeed, mundane.”

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Kevin Cmelik said the ruling may make officers more hesitant to approach the window of a car if they can’t ask for identification to know who they’re dealing with.

“It certainly is going to change the dynamics for officers in those situations where they do dispel their reasonable suspicion and have to decide what to do,” he said.

Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan expressed concerns about officer safety and said undue restrictions on traffic stops have unintended consequences for public safety.

“The practical implications of this ruling are yet to play out, and we will no doubt continue to see the implications of the ruling in the coming years,” she said in a memo sent Friday to law enforcement officers in the field, including state troopers.

Traffic stops remove unsafe drivers from the road but also help officers discover abducted children, identify domestic abuse and find signs of human trafficking, she said.

Coleman’s attorney, Micki Meier, said the decision “limits officers’ ability to just be able to randomly choose vehicles to pull over based on license plates” and forces them to have some other reason for stopping cars.

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