DES MOINES — Drivers with out-of-state license plates are much more likely to be stopped by the Iowa State Patrol.
The Des Moines Register reviewed about 22,000 traffic warnings and tickets issued by the State Patrol between 2008 and the end of last year. About 86 percent of those tickets and warnings went to out-of-state drivers.
Drivers from California, Colorado and Illinois received one-third of the 16,375 warnings and 5,685 tickets.
Some lawyers and motorists question whether the State Patrol’s interest in out-of-state drivers is warranted, saying troopers sometimes use minor offenses as an excuse to conduct questionable interrogations.
But officials defended the State Patrol’s practices, saying the state where a car is from is only one factor considered. Sgt. Rob Mordini said troopers are also looking for suspicious behavior on the part of drivers.
Mordini said any number of factors may trigger additional investigation, including extreme perspiration, dilated pupils, and conflicting stories between drivers and passengers.
Also, Mordini said, troopers are focused on more than the drug trade when they are making traffic stops. He said some of the investigations produce evidence related to other crimes.
Iowa attorneys Dean Stowers and Nicholas Sarcone analyzed the citation and violations data, and said it appeared that some troopers were going too far.
“As it stands right now, there does not appear to be any willingness on behalf of the State Patrol to adjust their practices,” Stowers said.
The Iowa Court of Appeals recently overturned the drug conviction of a man after Stowers and Sarcone argued that the search of his vehicle was improper.
In Iowa, courts have ruled that officers must have the motorist’s consent before they can search a vehicle.
And although drivers can be detained during a traffic stop, Iowa law says that further detention is allowed only if an officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
An attorney for the Department of Public Safety, Roxann Ryan, said state troopers receive annual training in the legal limits on searches.
She said the violation numbers might be affected by the fact that Iowa has a lower speed limit than the surrounding states.