Gov't To Court: Driving A Car In Iowa With A Valid Iowa Temporary Tag Is A Traffic Violation

from the some-stops-are-more-pretextual-than-others dept

We have a new item to add to the list of things law enforcement finds suspicious. And not just “hmm, that’s strange,” but rather, “hmm, let’s stop this vehicle and search everyone and everything in it.” To date, a long list has been compiled of activities law enforcement finds inherently suspicious, many of which are contradictory or encompass the routine daily activities of millions of non-criminal US citizens.

People have been declared “suspicious” for being too calm or too nervous. For making eye contact and not making eye contact. Talking too much is suspicious. The same goes for not talking enough. Driving roads that connect major cities is suspicious because all major cities contain both buyers and sellers of drugs. Cops have argued that activities they’ve witnessed daily without affecting an arrest is suddenly suspicious when a traffic stop/fishing expedition results in a drug bust.

An officer with the Waterloo, Iowa police department is adding something new to this impossibly long list of dubious traffic stop justifications: driving with valid Iowa dealer’s plates in Iowa. (via Brad Heath)

The traffic stop was initiated because officer witnessed something possibly suspicious two days earlier involving the vehicle officers pulled over two days later. A shooting was being investigated and appellant Joshua Rode was spotted exiting the vehicle in a gang-operated area. At the point the stop was initiated, Rode was presumably considered to be a possible gang member. But according to the officers’ testimony, he was also “suspected” to have been the victim of the unreported shooting the officers were investigating.

Based on this weird connective tissue, Sergeant Kye Richter radioed Officer Diana Del Valle and suggested she initiate a pretextual stop of the vehicle. Del Valle needed a bit of outside prompting to find a traffic violation to trigger the stop. From the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court decision [PDF]:

When the BMW departed ten minutes later, Del Valle followed. She saw that the BMW had a dealer advertising plate instead of a rear license plate, which she had noticed two days earlier, and a temporary paper card taped to the inside of the left rear window. Del Valle radioed Richter and Sullivan she had seen “no violations yet.” They asked about the card in the back window. Del Valle said, “you can see a plate, but you can’t read what’s on it.” Officer Sullivan replied, “there you go.” Del Valle activated the lights on her police cruiser and made an “equipment stop.

Probable cause for the stop? Officer Del Valle seemed to think so. But her own testimony shows no traffic violation had occurred.

She testified that she could first read the numbers on the temporary card when “I got to the trunk area.” She did not examine whether the temporary card was valid (it was) because “I already had the probable cause, which was a temporary tag. I wasn’t focused on whether that tag was valid or not at that time.”

But that was exactly the reason she stopped the vehicle. Sergeant Richter prompted the stop with “there you go,” but Del Valle carried out the stop based on the completely wrong theory that possession of a dealer’s plate was a traffic violation in and of itself. The district court disagreed and suppressed the weapon found during the ensuing search.

The government appealed, arguing that Del Valle’s inability to read every piece of information contained on the temporary tag in the window gave her probable cause to stop the vehicle. The court disagrees. Temporary tags are required to contain certain information, but nothing in the law says all that info needs to be immediately visible to officers following vehicles in all weather at all times of the day.

Del Valle also did not identify what information she could not see that gave her (or Officer Sullivan) reasonable suspicion of a violation. If her reference to “letters or numbers” meant the unique vehicle registration letters and numbers on a license plate, which law enforcement officers often use to identify specific vehicles, then she had no reasonable suspicion at all, because § 321.25 only requires disclosure of “the registration number of the dealer from whom the vehicle was purchased and the date of delivery of the vehicle.” If she meant the dealer’s registration number, she did not explain why she needed to see that when she could plainly see a dealer’s advertising plate in the BMW’s license plate location. If she meant the expiration date — and nothing in the record even hints at that — neither Del Valle nor Richter testified as to their basis for believing that the requirement in § 321.25 that this information be “plainly stamped or stenciled” on the temporary card meant that, unless it is readable at night from a pursuing police cruiser, the vehicle is likely breaking the law.

Temporary tags must be visible and legible at all times from any distance is the government’s argument. That’s the corner it painted itself into with Officer Del Valle’s testimony and its insistence on appealing the lower court’s decision. The Appeals Court quotes the lower court’s ruling, hammering home the fact the government should have known the stop was initiated without probable cause and should have cut its losses at the district level.

As the district court recognized, the government’s position in this case would mean that an Iowa police officer may stop a vehicle displaying a proper form of temporary registration card whenever the officer cannot read the dealer registration number and the card’s expiration date from inside the officer’s following police cruiser.

The Appeals Court refuses to grant the officer good faith, pointing out the government failed to raise this argument at the lower level. Even if it had, the Appeals Court wouldn’t have allowed the government to use this escape hatch.

[E]ven if not forfeited, the argument that the officers made a reasonable mistake of Iowa law is without merit: (a) it is not reasonable to construe the requirement of “plainly stamped or stenciled” information in § 321.25 as meaning information that can be read from a pursuing officer’s police cruiser… On the other hand, if the government is arguing that Officer Del Valle (or Officer Sullivan) reasonably believed there was reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop, “mistakes about the requirements of the Fourth Amendment violate the Fourth Amendment even when they are reasonable.”

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Gov't To Court: Driving A Car In Iowa With A Valid Iowa Temporary Tag Is A Traffic Violation”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guy (profile) says:

Break out the cloning machines

On the other hand, if the government is arguing that Officer Del Valle (or Officer Sullivan) reasonably believed there was reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop, “mistakes about the requirements of the Fourth Amendment violate the Fourth Amendment even when they are reasonable.

‘It still wouldn’t have mattered if you thought you were reasonable, it was still a violation.’

Now if every other court in the country would hold to the same idea and stop giving those with a badge a pass because they claim they thought they were acting within the law, that’d be great.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Break out the cloning machines

It’s worth noting here that any rights violation you can win a 42 USC 1983 lawsuit over is also a crime under 18 USC 241 & 242 — 241 being the conspiracy version and 242 the individual offense.

Given how cops almost never act entirely alone and the fact that many states and the feds consider any crime committed while in possession of a firearm to invoke the ‘with a dangerous weapon’ version of a crime (whether the victim ever saw the weapon or not), the court stating that a mistake that violates a right is still a rights violation is amazing.

People have been convicted of felonies despite lacking intent to break the law, and any 241 violation or a ‘with dangerous weapon’ violation of 242 is automatically a felony.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps we’ve let this “good faith” thing go a bit to far?

These cops honestly thought they could parlay an invented pretext for stopping the car into a magic wand that allowed them to go to town.

Hopefully the ocean liner is starting to turn to a new course. We’ve always managed to stay the course no matter how stupid it looks because we fear what might happen if we try to change course, until the 3rd or 4th iceberg they ram into that no longer can be ignored.

While the police would rather focus on today being the day the 25th cop was shot in the line of duty & how little respect we have for them… perhaps they should look at this and wonder if maybe they wasted any possible respect by violating peoples rights, demanding we accept that sometimes unarmed people needed to be dead to protect the officer, that the dog could have escaped the chain & needed to be put down for officer safety.

Anonymous Coward says:

open secret

It’s been pretty much an open secret for as long as I can remember that driving with temporary license plates is guaranteed to get you pulled over, and quite probably by every cop who notices you driving by.

And it’s probably even worse now, with the police’s current reliance on ALPRs.

Private car sales are of course even worse than dealer sales in some states, since there are no dealer tags, and the buyer is forced to either tow the tag-less car home, or (like most people do) slap on the license plates from another car to avoid being noticed by the cops while you drive it home, because if you do get stopped you will be in deep deep trouble.

I propose a simple solution to all the license plate mess — a permanent plate welded on, good for life in all 50 states.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: open secret

Funnily enough, that is close to what we have in Australia. Registration plates are issued when the car is first put on the road, and stay with the car until it is
a) permanently registered in another state (sold, or the owner moves)
b) the owner gets vanity plates (these stay with the owner, not the car)
c) the car is scrapped.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: open secret

Well, I have one of these anti-camera covers to prevent a camera from seeing the plate at an angle, but the human eye could see it straight on.

This is so that these “noise snare” devices put into red light cameras cannot give me a ticket for loud car stereo.

Some people say “loud pipes save lives”, so can a loud car stereo. Blasting my car stereo loud has saved from from accidents with inattentive people. My loud stereo gets their attention

By making my plates invisible to cameras, I have saved myself from getting loud car stereo tickets in the mail. I know because there a few times I got “flashed” by red light cameras, even when the light was green, so I know that noise snare devices are being used in my town. So I make my plates invisible to cameras, so can I play my stereo loud and not get a ticket in the mail for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: open secret

Blasting my car stereo loud has saved from from accidents with inattentive people. My loud stereo gets their attention

It also deafens you against outside noises that might be significant, especially where there are people around. If you can’t hear a mother shouting at a toddler to stop, you can easily run over them because they are invisible. I heard the mother, and waited till I could see the toddler before reversing out of a parking space, thankfully.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: open secret

Not to mention, playing music from a car at the volumes I’ve heard some people use also means you probably can’t hear the sound of sirens, warning you that an emergency vehicle is coming through. Which can result in anything from failure to yield to an emergency vehicle (violation of the law) to an actual collision, depending on the circumstances.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 open secret

I can hear the sounds of sirens. That is why I keep all my Windows down, so that I can still hear sirens and everything else around.

That is one difference between me, and other people playing loud car stereos. I keep my windows down, so that I can hear things like sirens and the like, and people can hear my coming, without having to turn it up as loud as I otherwise would.

What I do, is take one of these RCA mini-stereos, and use a 12 to 110 inveter to power it, and then plug it into the head unit using RCA cables, plugging the cables in the Aux input, and having the stereo and speakers in the back seat.

Most people have amps and speakers in the trunk, but I have the RCA mini stereo in the back seat, so I don’t have to have that annoying thumpa-thumps bass to be heard. I can be heard further away, without having to turn it up as loud.

Also, I don’t have that “thumpa thumpa” bass, that more expensive setups have, so I am not nearly as annoying as other loud stereos.

I also play all kinds of music. I don’t play much that “ghetto” music. I play rock, country, pop, and pretty a wide variety of music for a lot of tastes.

My loud car stereo is way different than what others have in their cars.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 open secret

And if you want a homebrew setup like mine, you will need a cell phone with an SD card to store music, then you will need the Poweramp music player for your phone. Sorry iPhone users, but that is only made for Andoid.

You will also need a stereo with an Aux input jack, so you plug the phone the head unit through the phone’s headphone jack. My recommendation is the JVC KD-320 or KD-330, as it has that, and the RCA outputs you will need to plug into the mini-stereo, in the back seat.

Having a setup in the the back seat has advantages over having it in the trunk

The first is you don’t need that annoying bass to be heard. One the equalizer, have equal amounts of bass and treble.

The second is that you don’t have to have it as loud to be heard further out.

Third is that you can you all your windows down, and be haerd, and still hear things like sirens and the like. That is the secret. If you can going to play your stereo loud, have all your windows down.

Most important, you stereo head MUST have an Aux in jack to play music from your phone. If you do not have an aux input jack, you cannot play music from your phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Some cars have one place you can hide stuff you don’t want the cops to find where they cannot search, unless either they have a warrant, or you are on “searachable” probation.

In some cars, there is abig space under the cup holders, you just put it under there, and snap the cupholder back in place.

The cops cannot go teearing your cupholder out unless either they have a search warrant, or you are on searchable probation.

Cops can look in the trunk, look in the main passenger area, and look in your glove compartment, but they cannot go tearing out your cup holder.

I do this so that if a cop should ERAD devices, he will not be able to find my cards and take money from my bank accounts. I just keep my driver license and one low credit limit credit card in my shirt pocket, and keep my wallet and other cards safely hidden away where any cop will not find it.

I tend to attract suspicion because I am one of the safest drivers you will ever meet. I never turn right on a red light. I also never turn before the green arrow, even at these “permissive” turn signals. While I can go on the flashing yellow, I wait for the green. If other drivers behind me don’t like that, tough. I put safety first.

If I am going to turn before the arrow, I will wait for everything to pass. Even though you can go, when something ins coming, provided you can get through, before whatever is coming gets there, I don’t do that. I wait for everything to pass, even though drivers behind me get annoyed.

Being a safe driver does raise suspicion, which I hide my wallet, cash, and all my bank cards under the cupholder, so that if I am stopped, the cops won’t see anything or find anything. Once its snapped back into place.

It also prevents a thief from stealing stuff. Thieves are idiots. They would never think to look under the cup holder for stuff.

In short it is a convenient space to hide stuff from both cops and criminals alike.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t these left turn signals that let you turn before the arrow. They actually cause more accidents than you think, because there are some intersections that left turns should protected-only

Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco is an example of that. They allow left turns now at most of the intersections, but they have these “permissive” left turn signals where it is just too dangerous to go before the arrow. Anyone turning left from Van Ness before the arrow is just plain nuts.

The problem is that those kinds of permissive signals were mandated when Obama was President under his “green initiative”. The enviro-loonies think that if oncoming traffic has to stop all the time so you can turn, it is bad for the environment.

And the left turn lanes will have sensors where you will get the green arrow if you wait long enough. In Reno they have the flashing left arrow signals set like that. If I wait a minute of two, the light for oncoming traffic will turn red, and the flashing yellow arrow will turn to a green arrow, giving me the right of way.

The same in San Diego where I stay at the Westin when I go. The left turn into the parking lot has one of these “permissive” left turn signals where they should not have it. It is just too dangerous to go before the arrow, but the city has the light programmed where if you wait long enough, the light for the oncoming traffic will turn red, and you will get the the green arrow. I have have damn near had it a few times at that instersection with people not yielding on a solid green when they should. The City Of San Diego needs to swap that signal out for a traditional red-yellow-green left turn on green arrow only light.

I am very “old school” when it comes to driving safety. Give the old fashioned left turn on green arrow only lights.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not if the space was put in there by the factory. Laws regarding hidden hiding places only apply to aftermarket modifications.

If you own a car where you can snap out the cupholder, hide stuff, and then snap it back in again, you are not breaking any laws.

Unless the cop has a warrant, he cannot go tearing out you cupholder. Cops are limited where they can search without a warrant, and the space between the cupholder is off limits with either a search warrant or searchable probation.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You are not being safer, you’re causing an obstruction to the flow of traffic, which is often the most common cause of accidents. The lights are designed around the fact that people can turn right on red after stopping, and by not turning, you cause traffic to back up further than the engineers planned for. Same for not turning at “permissive” lights. I imagine you have many other driving practices you believe make you “safe” that are in actuality very dangerous, both to other people and yourself. You’re only LUCKY that no one has run into the back of your car when you refuse to turn when it’s permitted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That trouble is that intersections where some of these permissive turn signals are at are should not have them. They should be protected-only.

Try and make a left turn off Van Ness Ave in San Francisco before the arrow comes on. You will find that the oncoming is just too heavy to try it. Anyone who tries to turn left off Van Ness, before the arrow comes on is out of their mind. The City Of San Francisco needs to change those over to always-protected left turns.

And like I said, those kinds of signals have come in on account of the “Green Initiative”, that Obama brought in.

Some people think that if left turns are protected only, it is bad for the environment.

Trump and the Republicans will be doing something good for the country if they work to repeal that requirement.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...