Knowles v. Iowa
Annotate this Case
525 U.S. 113 (1998)
OCTOBER TERM, 1998
KNOWLES v. IOWA
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF IOWA
No. 97-7597. Argued November 3, 1998-Decided December 8,1998
An Iowa policeman stopped petitioner Knowles for speeding and issued him a citation rather than arresting him. The officer then conducted a full search of the car, without either Knowles' consent or probable cause, found marijuana and a "pot pipe," and arrested Knowles. Before his trial on state drug charges, Knowles moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that because he had not been arrested, the search could not be sustained under the "search incident to arrest" exception recognized in United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218. The trial court denied the motion and found Knowles guilty, based on state law giving officers authority to conduct a full-blown search of an automobile and driver where they issue a citation instead of making a custodial arrest. In affirming, the State Supreme Court applied its bright-line "search incident to citation" exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, reasoning that so long as the officer had probable cause to make a custodial arrest, there need not in fact have been an arrest.
Held: The search at issue, authorized as it was by state law, nonetheless violates the Fourth Amendment. Neither of the two historical exceptions for the "search incident to arrest" exception, see Robinson, supra, at 234, is sufficient to justify the search in the present case. First, the threat to officer safety from issuing a traffic citation is a good deal less than in the case of a custodial arrest. While concern for safety during a routine traffic stop may justify the "minimal" additional intrusion of ordering a driver and passengers out of the car, it does not by itself justify the often considerably greater intrusion attending a full fieldtype search. Even without the search authority Iowa urges, officers have other, independent bases to search for weapons and protect themselves from danger. Second, the need to discover and preserve evidence does not exist in a traffic stop, for once Knowles was stopped for speeding and issued a citation, all evidence necessary to prosecute that offense had been obtained. Iowa's argument that a "search incident to citation" is justified because a suspect may try to hide evidence of his identity or of other crimes is unpersuasive. An officer may arrest a driver if he is not satisfied with the identification furnished, and the possibility that an officer would stumble onto evidence of an unrelated offense seems remote. Pp. 116-119.
569 N. W. 2d 601, reversed and remanded.
REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Paul Rosenberg argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Maria Ruhtenberg.
Bridget A. Chambers, Assistant Attorney General of Iowa, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Elizabeth M. Osenbaugh, Solicitor General. *
CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
An Iowa police officer stopped petitioner Knowles for speeding, but issued him a citation rather than arresting him. The question presented is whether such a procedure authorizes the officer, consistently with the Fourth Amendment, to conduct a full search of the car. We answer this question "no."
Knowles was stopped in Newton, Iowa, after having been clocked driving 43 miles per hour on a road where the speed limit was 25 miles per hour. The police officer issued a citation to Knowles, although under Iowa law he might have arrested him. The officer then conducted a full search of the car, and under the driver's seat he found a bag of marijuana and a "pot pipe." Knowles was then arrested and charged with violation of state laws dealing with controlled substances.
Before trial, Knowles moved to suppress the evidence so obtained. He argued that the search could not be sustained under the "search incident to arrest" exception recognized in United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218 (1973), because he had not been placed under arrest. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the police officer conceded that he had
* James J. Tomkovicz, Steven R. Shapiro, Susan N. Herman, and Lisa B. Kemler filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.
Stephen R. McSpadden filed a brief for the National Association of Police Organizations, Inc., as amicus curiae urging affirmance.