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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we will look at several changes to Iowa criminal law which were created through statute and case law. We will look at the law relating to:

  • Changes to traffic stop laws in Iowa
  • Operating While Impaired (OWI) Laws in Iowa
  • Jury selection in Iowa
  • Weapons and “Stand your Ground” laws in Iowa
  • Changes to Iowa’s animal abuse laws
  • Cultivation of hemp in Iowa
  • Changes to Tobacco Laws in Iowa
  • Restoration of voting rights to felons in Iowa

Changes to traffic stop laws in Iowa

As many criminal law issues involve questions of Constitutional Law, decisions of the United States Supreme Court affect Iowa criminal law.

The United States Supreme Court held under that Fourth Amendment, an officer can pull a vehicle over inferring that the owner is driving the vehicle. In Kansas v. Glover, a police officer ran a license plate and found the truck belonged to Glover. Glover’s license had previously been revoked, and the deputy stopped the truck inferring that Glover was the driver. He was charged with driving as a habitual violator. The Supreme Court held, under the Fourth Amendment, that an officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop if they have a “particularized and objective basis” to suspect wrongdoing, depending on the “factual and practical considerations of everyday life.”

This case serves as a warning to anyone driving without a license, even if no other laws are being broken, that a police officer could justifiably pull them over after running a license plate.

The Iowa Supreme Court also held that, no matter the police officer’s actual reason for pulling over a driver, the stop is valid under the Iowa Constitution if a reasonable officer would have probable cause to believe the driver committed a traffic offense. Some fear this could lead to persons being pulled over for discriminatory reasons, and it later being justified under different grounds.

The Iowa Supreme Court also held that officers cannot unreasonably detain a vehicle which was stopped for a traffic violation, to question the subject extensively about a separate criminal activity. In one case, a person was stopped for driving in the wrong lane, and was held and questioned fourteen minutes about criminal activity that had nothing to do with the traffic violation for which the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion. The Court held that this action by the officer was improper.

Operating While Impaired (OWI) Laws in Iowa

The United States Supreme Court held that there is a “compelling” need for non-consensual blood alcohol tests when law enforcement has probable cause to believe the defendant was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and was unconscious at the time.

The Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed that, under section 321J.2(1)(c), if any amount of a controlled substance is found in blood or urine, this constitutes operating while intoxicated, whether or not you are actually impaired. Some drugs because marijuana stays in a person’s system for several weeks. A person having used marijuana some time ago could still receive an OWI charge even if the effects wore off weeks prior.

The Iowa Supreme Court also states that individuals have the right to request to undergo an independent chemical test, but law enforcement has no obligation to do so or make the test available to the driver. The person being arrested must “Make any statement that can reasonably be construed as a request for an independent chemical test.”

Jury Selection in Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court held that courts must employ a statistical analysis under which a disparity exceeding one standard deviation establishes on its face that a particular group is underrepresented in the jury selection process. The courts must use the most recent available census data, adjusted to those who are eligible serve as jurors. To challenge the jury pool as unconstitutional, a defendant must show the group is less than the expected percentage of that group by at least two standard deviations.

The United States Supreme Court found a Mississippi prosecutor acted improperly by dismissing 41 or 42 potential black jurors and subjected black jurors to more extensive questioning than white panelists.

Weapons and “Stand your Ground” laws in Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a person carrying a firearm in the parking lot of an athletic stadium used by several schools constitutes the grounds of a school. The Court held it was school property for the purposes of a statute prohibiting carrying a firearm on school ground.

The Iowa Supreme Court held that the crime “carrying weapons while intoxicated” requires proof the defendant carried a weapon, not simply had on in his possession.

“Stand Your Ground”

The Iowa Supreme Court held the “stand your ground” justification does not apply where a defendant is engaging in criminal activity. If it is an offense for the person to be carrying weapons in the first place, they cannot use the stand your ground defense.

The Court also held the stand your ground defense allows for immunity from liability, not immunity from prosecution. The issue is taken up at a trial before a trial jury, not in a pretrial hearing.

Self Defense

If someone initiated the confrontation, left the scene, and returned a short time later to follow his family members to the victim’s residence, he was not able to use the self defense justification. The Court said the defendant effectively continued the cause of action by returning to the scene of the initiated confrontation.

Changes to Iowa’s animal abuse laws in Iowa

Iowa overhauled its animal abuse statutes (apart from livestock and some wild animals) which provided for more severe punishments for cases of animal abuse and neglect. A person who commits animal abuse is now subject to a serious misdemeanor, and a person who commits animal abuse that causes serious injury or death is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor. If a person has previously been convicted of causing serious injury or death to an animal, they are guilty of a class “D” felony. A person who commits animal neglect or abandonment, which does not cause injury or death, is guilty of a simple misdemeanor.

Cultivation of Hemp in Iowa

Iowa created new laws regarding hemp, its use, and its production. The government can issue temporary harvest and transportation permits after testing a sample of the plants to make sure they fall within permissible THC limits. Persons seeking to produce help products in this state must register with the department of inspections, and must comply with federal laws regarding help. The government is free to revoke the hemp license depending on levels of THC, and will have unbridled access to the crops.

Note however that possession of recreational marijuana remains a crime in Iowa. Medical marijuana is also still largely illegal, although there are limited exceptions for certain conditions.

Changes to Tobacco Laws in Iowa

Iowa changed laws regarding who can purchase “tobacco, tobacco products, alternative nicotine products, vapor products (vaping), and cigarettes.” The legal age for purchasing these products was increased from 18 to 21. Laws relating to underage purchase of tobacco products remain the same, but are now increased to 21.

Restoration of voting rights to felons in Iowa

In August, Governor Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights to felons who completed their sentence, including probation and parole. Those guilty of offenses under Iowa’s homicide code may need to apply to the governor for individual rights restoration. This executive order could be reversed in the future, as many are calling for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to restore voting rights.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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