Iowa Supreme Court makes second ruling limiting authority of IDOT officers

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 10/26/2018

It has been a rough week for the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement division. On the same day the state Supreme Court ruled that MVE officers illegally handed out nearly 13,000 speeding citations, the same court also ruled that a MVE officer illegally arrested a motorist for driving with a revoked license. Although very similar, the two cases are separate.

On Oct. 19, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed a district court’s decision that denied a man’s motion to suppress evidence resulting from a traffic stop by a MVE officer, arguing the officer had no authority to stop and arrest him. The higher court agreed with the man, citing a similar case they ruled on just earlier that same day.

In August 2016, MVE officer Ryan Glade was on patrol in Iowa City when he pulled over a black BMW going eastbound on Interstate 80 for traveling 72 mph in a 55 mph construction zone.

Jeremey Werner, the driver of the BMW, told Glade he did not have a driver’s license due to it being revoked. Glade cited Werner for speeding and arrested him for driving without a license, subsequently transporting him to the Iowa County Jail.

Werner challenged the arrest in court, arguing that Glade had no authority to arrest him in the first place. The district court disagreed, stating that Glade was considered a peace officer within the meaning of Iowa Code sections 321.1(50) and 801.4(11).

Section 321.1(50) defines a peace officer as “every officer authorized to direct or regulate traffic or to make arrests for violations of traffic regulations in addition to its meaning in section 801.4.”

Section 801.4 breaks down who is considered a peace officer or law enforcement officer, which includes (emphasis added):

  • Sheriffs and their regular deputies who are subject to mandated law enforcement training.
  • Marshals and police officers of cities.
  • Peace officer members of the department of public safety.
  • Parole officers.
  • Probation officers.
  • Special security officers employed by board of regents institutions.
  • Conservation officers.
  • Such employees of the department of transportation as are designated “peace officers” by resolution of the department under section 321.477.
  • Employees of an aviation authority designated as “peace officers” by the authority under section 330A.8, subsection 16.
  • Such persons as may be otherwise so designated by law.

Based on the court’s interpretation of MVE officers being peace officers, Glade was protected by Iowa Code section 321.492(1), which allows peace officers “to stop a vehicle to require exhibition of the driver’s license of the driver” and “to serve a summons or memorandum of traffic violation.”

Also, the district court ruled that Glade was protected under section 804.91(1), allowing for citizen’s arrest.

Consequently, the lower court convicted Werner of driving while under a revoked license, sentenced him to two days in jail and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine.

On Oct. 19, the Iowa Supreme Court heard two cases related to the authority granted to MVE officers. In a case preceding Werner’s, the Supreme Court pointed out that section 321.477 further defines a MVE officer’s authority as “a peace officer to control and direct traffic and weigh vehicles, and to make arrests for violations of the motor vehicle laws relating to the operating authority, registration, size, weight, and load of motor vehicles and trailers and registration of a motor carrier’s interstate transportation service with the department.”

Given the specific restrictions, MVE officers did not have authority beyond what was specified in that section.

Regarding citizen’s arrest, the Supreme Court ruled in the previous case that section 804.9 states a private person can make an arrest. However, the statute does not extend to individuals who are not private citizens, including DOT officers.

Applying the rulings from the preceding case to Werner’s, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision and ordered the lower court to hold further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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