Iowa Court of Appeals Holds Contraband Found on a Vehicle’s Passenger Alone Does Not Provide Probable Cause to Search Entire Vehicle

Posted on: September 21st, 2017


The Iowa Court of Appeals recently reversed two drug convictions and ordered a new trial for Shannon See, holding that the contraband found during a warrantless search of her person and vehicle should have been suppressed for lack of probable cause.  The Court’s opinion relied heavily on the particular factual circumstances.

On February 15, 2015, at 2:45 a.m., Waterloo police officers responded to a report of suspicious behavior in a gas station parking lot.  The police found Shannon See and Trivino Clark inside See’s vehicle.  Pursuant to an outstanding warrant, the police arrested Trivino Clark.  Officers discovered a glass pipe and marijuana residue on Clark’s person during the arrest.   Thereafter, based on the evidence found on Clark, the police performed a warrantless search of See’s vehicle, finding drugs and drug paraphernalia.  See was charged with two counts of possession.

Before trial, See moved to suppress the evidence found during the search. See argued that the police were without probable cause, because:

  • No marijuana odor emanated from See’s vehicle;
  • The pipe found on Clark was not warm;
  • See did not appear under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and
  • No contraband was in plain view inside the vehicle.

The State argued that the contraband found on Clark’s person, as well as the marijuana odor emanating from Clark’s person, were indeed sufficient to support probable cause to search the vehicle.  The trial court denied See’s motion.

On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the police lacked probable cause to search See’s vehicle.  The Court ordered a new trial with instructions to suppress the items found during the warrantless search of her vehicle. The Court also noted that the police had no particularized knowledge of any history of drug use or activity by See, and she did not appear nervous when interacting with officers.  The Court concluded that the officers relied solely on the pipe found on Clark’s person, and that this fact alone did not provide probable cause to perform a warrantless search of See’s vehicle.


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