Drug Interdiction – The Anatomy of a Drug Related Traffic Stop


More and more, law enforcement is beginning to emphasize "interdiction" activities along Iowa's main highways.  Specifically, Interstate 80 and Interstate 35, which both run directly through the heart of Iowa.  Interdiction, as law enforcement calls it, is a multi-jurisdictional effort to catch narcotics and narcotic transporters as they drive through Iowa.
Here is how it works.  Law enforcement, particularly members of the Iowa State Patrol, sit along side Interstate 80 and 35, looking for vehicles that "catch their attention."  Normally these are vehicles with out-of-state plates, especially, New York, Arizona, California, and Texas.  These states are referred to by law enforcement as "source states."  Often times these vehicles will have auxiliary amenities to them such as exterior toolboxes or gas tanks or other items that the State Patrol suspects could store illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Once identified, Troopers will then stop the "suspicious" vehicle for the most minor traffic or equipment infraction including speed (sometimes only 3 miles and hour over the speed limit), tinted windows (Iowa law does not allow for tint on the front driver or passenger window or the windshield), expired registrations, license plate frames that cover any letters or numbers on a plate, or any other "violation" the Trooper can come up with.  The Trooper then approaches the vehicle, looking at the interior to see if it has a "lived in" look as he is asking for driver and passenger identification, proof of insurance and registration.  The driver is then asked to sit in the patrol car as the warning or citation is issued. 
Once the driver is in his vehicle, the Trooper begins asking questions about the starting point, destination and purpose of the trip.  Before returning the drivers license and allowing him to go on his way, the Trooper, under the guise of returning the passengers identification, begins questioning the passenger about the same thing.  Any inconsistency in story will cause the Trooper to investigate further.  The Trooper will come back, tell the driver he is free to leave, but as the driver is walking back to the car, the Trooper will ask him to come back and answer a few other questions.  At this point the Trooper confronts the driver about any inconsistencies and flat out asks the driver if there are any drugs in the vehicle
The Trooper carefully analyzes the driver's response and then goes through a list of drugs, asking the driver whether any of them are present.  If the driver denies the presence of narcotics the Trooper will request consent to search.  If consent is granted, all occupants are placed in the rear of squad cars with audio recorders rolling to pick up any conversations between the vehicle occupants.  If consent is not granted, often times the Trooper will have the driver return to his vehicle, get the passengers out of the vehicle and secure them as well, before running a K-9 or drug dog around the vehicle.  The Trooper will contend that the inconsistent answers and nervous demeanor of the driver provided a suspicion that justified the K-9 sniff of the vehicle.
If the K-9 "alerts" to any part of the vehicle, an immediate "probable cause search" is conducted. (See previous Blog, "Are the Sniffs Up to Snuff"). If the K-9 does not alert, then the occupants are normally permitted to go on about their business.  After letting them go, the Troopers will then review the in-car audio recordings to see if the vehicle occupants made any incriminating statements to each other while seated in the rear of the vehicle.  If so, they will radio ahead and have another agency re-stop the vehicle so that further investigation can be conducted.
In drug "interdiction" or drug traffic stop situations, people are well-advised to remember a few simple rules:
1.             Once the driving or equipment violation citation is issued, the officer must let you go on about your business, unless they have an articulable suspicion of criminal activity.  Mere nervousness alone is insufficient.
2.             ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU.  Everything is recorded.  Both when you are speaking to the officer and when you are in the patrol vehicle.  The less you say the better and you NEVER have to answer questions.
3.             You NEVER have to consent to a search of your person or your vehicle.  If they want to search, make them get a warrant or search it without a warrant which then gives your lawyer arguments to have anything they found thrown out of court.
Remember, know your rights before you need them!
Know your rights; Exercise your rights; and Preserve your freedom!