News Release

Supreme Court Voids Iowa Car Search Law

Washington, DC (December 8, 1998) -- "The Supreme Court has unanimously reaffirmed one of our most cherished rights, the 'right to be left alone,'" the President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said today in response to the Court's 9-0 decision banning nonconsenual searches of vehicles after routine traffic stops. "A car search is not just an insult and an inconvenience, it's a violation of our constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures," said NACDL President Larry Pozner, of Denver, CO. "We have constitutional checks because we can't always be sure that the police or the legislature will use good judgment. The Bill of Rights is our guardian against tyranny, great and small," NACDL joined the Iowa and American Civil Liberties Unions in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in today's case, Knowles v. Iowa, No. 97-7597, asking the Court to hold the Iowa search law unconstitutional.

In today's decision, a police officer stopped Patrick Knowles for speeding. Under Iowa law, the officer could have arrested Mr. Knowles but instead he issued him a citation. He then conducted a full search of Mr. Knowles' car, and found marijuana and a pipe under the seat. An exception to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures provides that an officer may search a person placed under arrest to ensure that the suspect is not carrying a weapon or concealing evidence of a crime. Mr. Knowles, however, was not arrested, and the Supreme Court held that the search of his car was unreasonable.

"The officer wrote Mr. Knowles a citation for going 43 in a 25 mile per hour zone. Common sense dictates that the officer wasn't going to find more evidence of speeding by searching the car after writing the ticket," Pozner said.
[Click Here] for the text of the Supreme Court's decision.

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.