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Iowa court says DOT weigh station search that led to trucker’s drug charge was illegal

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The Iowa Supreme Court recently sided with a trucker convicted for drug possession after finding that an Iowa DOT weigh station search conducted on his vehicle was illegal.

The Iowa Supreme Court has thrown out the search that led to Texas trucker Stephen Arrieta’s conviction on drug charges after finding that an Iowa Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Officer searched his vehicle illegally, according to a report from Radio Iowa.

Thee incident began around 12:30 p.m. on August 5, 2020, according to a previous Decision issued by the Court of Appeals of Iowa in January 2023.

Arrieta was pulled into the Northwood weigh station on I-35 after Iowa Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Officer Taran Waalkens noticed that his truck’s PrePass device failed.

Waalkens performed a Level III inspection.

From court documents:

During the inspection of Arrieta’s semi-tractor, Officer Waalkens learned the truck’s vehicle identification number (VIN) was reported as stolen. Officer Waalkens requested dispatch to “check with the originating agency to see if this stolen hit was still valid.” Meanwhile, as Officer Waalkens continued his inspection, he learned Arrieta was “only hauling insulation” from Minnesota to Texas, which from his experience, “wouldn’t be a productive trip for the company.” Officer Waalkens also noticed Arrieta was not operating an official electronic log book, so his entries were “highly editable.” Arrieta’s logbook also contained “multiple inconsistencies,” including instances “where [Arrieta] would change locations in Texas, sometimes over 100 miles,” and on the day prior, Arrieta “logged over 770 miles in exactly 11 hours of driving time,” “mean[ing] he would have averaged 77 mph during this trip.” Given this information, and considering his knowledge that “I-35 is a very popular corridor for drug trafficking,” Officer Waalkens “decided to call for a K9 at that point.”

At around 1:34 p.m., Officer Waalkens was advised by dispatch that the originating agency reported the VIN was still active as stolen, but “with it being a valid registration and a long period of time that it was probably a valid registration,” and not to “hold the driver for the stolen vehicle.” Officer Waalkens continued his inspection as Deputy Jesse Luther and Titan, a narcotics detection dog, arrived at around 2:00 p.m. Officer Waalkens had Arrieta come inside the weigh station with him “to further investigate the log book” and “review[ ] the information” with Arrieta while Deputy Luther had Titan conduct a free-air sniff of the vehicle. Titan alerted on the vehicle for the presence of narcotics in “the sleeper part” of the semi-tractor. Upon Arrieta’s consent, the officers subsequently discovered a small bag containing marijuana inside the vehicle in the area alerted to by Titan.

Arrieta was initially charged with possession of a controlled substance (marijuana) and operating while intoxicated. The operating while intoxicated charge was later dropped.

The Iowa Supreme Court found that Waalkens did not have reasonable suspicion to delay Arrieta at the weigh station for the drug dog to arrive and that Arrieta was improperly detained.

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