Lazy Officer Exception to the Warrant Requirement?

The Iowa Supreme Court recently created what some may call the "Lazy Officer Exception" to the search warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 8, of the Iowa Constitution. In the State of Iowa v. Christopher Leon Christopher, filed September 12, 2008, the Iowa Supreme Court determined that officer Butler from the Des Moines Police Department was justified in arresting Mr. Christopher without a warrant for the offense of driving while barred he witnessed Mr. Christopher commit some five weeks prior. Officer Butler witnessed Mr. Christopher driving while he was off duty believing him to have a barred driver's license and took no measures to stop him at that time for the violation. Officer Butler confirmed that Mr. Christopher was barred the next day while he was on duty and then saw Mr. Christopher five weeks later and decided to arrest him without a warrant for the offense of driving while barred. Following Mr. Christopher's arrest, he was searched and drugs were discovered.

Prior to trial, Mr. Christopher moved to exclude the use of the drugs at trial arguing that his arrest violated the Due Process Clause and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution as well as the Iowa Constitution. Mr. Christopher argued that the warrantless arrest was not lawful because it was not done within a reasonable time following the commission of the crime.

The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the arrest concluding that a reasonable time requirement between the time the officer observed he offense and the warrantless arrest is not "necessary to protect the rights of the accused."

From a defense perspective, this poses a problem since officers are now allowed to apparently make a warrantless arrest at any time following the commission of a crime that they witnessed so long as it is within the statute of limitations and are free to conduct a warrantless "search incident to that arrest" of the person following the arrest. Some would argue that officers now can be an ostrich with their head in the sand for a crime that they witness until they believe that a person may have evidence of other crimes on their person in order to hurdle the confines of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Iowa Supreme Court seemed to somewhat address this concern in the decision by cautioning that if the Police delay an arrest to gain a tactical advantage over the an accused, there may be a due process violation.