There is no time limit on law-enforcement traffic stops before the line is crossed into a Fourth Amendment violation, the Iowa Supreme Court said in a Dec. 8 decision, and courts must thoroughly examine the record to determine where to draw that line in each case.

In the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in State v. Arrieta, written by Justice Dana Oxley, the justices concluded the stop of a semi-trailer truck at weigh station was unreasonably extended while a traffic enforcement officer waited for a K-9 dog to arrive and conduct a drug sniff. As a result of the unreasonable delay, the Court held that the truck driver’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated and it reversed his conviction for possession of marijuana.

Stephen Arrieta was stopped in an Interstate 35 weigh station where Iowa Department of Transportation Officer Taran Waalkens performed a “Level 3” inspection, which includes a logbook document review, truck and trailer registrations, fuel tax receipts, and bills of lading. While the inspection was conducted, Waalkens requested assistance from the Worth County K-9 handler to conduct a sniff around the perimeter of the truck. However, the inspection, which itself took nearly one hour, concluded at least 25 minutes before the K-9 handler arrived.

Arrieta was charged with marijuana possession after the dog alerted to the truck’s sleeping compartment and a .29 gram “bowl” of marijuana was found inside. The Worth County District Court denied Arrieta’s motion to suppress the evidence and he was convicted of possession of a controlled substance.

Arrieta appealed the district’s court’s suppression ruling, arguing his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Officer Waalkens unreasonably delayed his inspection to allow time for the K-9 dog to arrive. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed.

The State argued that Waalkens’ suspicions based on Arrieta’s logbook discrepancies, the stolen-truck report, and his travel on Interstate 35, a known drug route, amounted to reasonable suspicion for delaying Arrieta beyond the original purpose for the stop.

But the stolen-truck report turned out to be inaccurate, and the log-book review could have been completed in less time than Waalkens took while awaiting arrival of the K-9, the Court concluded. And, the Court said, an officer’s “suspicion or hunch” about criminal activity is not enough.

“In considering the circumstances of the stop, the factors identified by the State do not rise to the level needed to create reasonable suspicion that Arrieta was engaged in criminal activity,” Justice Oxley wrote, adding that a “close review of the record reveals that the inspection should have reasonably been completed before the K-9 unit arrived, and Waalkens no longer had authority to detain Arrieta to conduct the free air sniff.”


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