IA declines to abandon automobile exception just because of availability of electronic warrants

Iowa declines to abandon the automobile exception just because technological advances make it possible to apply for telephone or email warrants from the scene of a search. Other states attempted that and reverted back to the automobile exception. State v. Storm, 2017 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 81 (June 30, 2017):

In this appeal, we must decide whether to abandon the automobile exception to the search warrant requirement under article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. In State v. Gaskins, we did not reach that issue, but members of this court noted the rationale for the exception may be eroded by technological advances enabling police to obtain warrants from the scene of a traffic stop. 866 N.W.2d 1, 17 (Iowa 2015) (Cady, C.J., concurring specially). The defendant driver in today’s case was lawfully stopped for a seat belt violation. The deputy smelled marijuana and searched the vehicle, discovering marijuana packaged for resale. The defendant was charged with possession with intent to deliver in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(1)(d) (2015). He filed a motion to suppress, claiming this warrantless search violated the Iowa Constitution because police can now obtain warrants electronically from the side of the road. The district court denied the motion after an evidentiary hearing that included testimony that it would have taken well over an hour to obtain a search warrant. The defendant was convicted, and we retained his appeal.

On our review, we conclude, based on the evidence in the record, that this deputy was unable to obtain a warrant electronically from the scene of the traffic stop, and the procedures in place at that time required a warrant application to be presented in person to a judicial officer. For the reasons further explained below, we elect to retain the automobile exception, consistent with our precedent, federal caselaw, and the overwhelming majority of other states. We are guided by the decisions of other states that abandoned the automobile exception only to reinstate it. Their experience shows the easy-to-apply automobile exception is preferable to the alternative—a less predictable, case-by-case exigency determination resulting in prolonged roadside seizures awaiting a warrant, with attendant dangers and no net gain for civil liberties. We may revisit this issue at a future time when roadside electronic warrants have become more practical. Today, we affirm the district court’s ruling denying the defendant’s motion to suppress and defendant’s conviction.

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