The City of Dubuque, Iowa recently passed a municipal bill outlawing the use of handheld cell phones for talking and texting while driving. The Iowa State Legislature is poised pass a similar measure in the coming months. Although enforcement of the bills may provide peace of mind for drivers the question becomes at what constitutional costs to a driver. A growing concern in the criminal defense community is that some officers may use the laws to circumvent protections under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. There is a long litany of Iowa Court of Appeals and Supreme Court cases which aim to protect drivers from police intrusion into their private automobiles. Cell phone bans will likely open the door to more stops for “investigatory purposes.” Once these laws are in place the everyday citizen should expect to be stopped by police. According to Lt. Scott Baxter of the Dubuque Police Department an officer will not need to observe an actual cell phone or the act of texting. “A lot of things you look for with a potential cell phone violation or texting violation would be the same things you’re looking for with a drunk driver or impaired driver. Erratic driving, drifting across the center line, high speed, low speed, variations in that regard.”  It is likely that an officer that observes any of these driving behaviors he may believe he has probable cause to stop a vehicle. Once the vehicle is stopped if the officer has a valid suspicion of other wrong doing he may broaden the scope of detention and inquire further to address his suspicion. If the officer’s suspicion leads to probable cause criminal charges for operating while intoxicated, driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, driving under suspension or driving while barred will likely occur.
If find yourself charged with a crime stemming from a stop based upon suspected cell phone use or texting it is important to seek a competent defense lawyer who understands the methods of attacking the validity of the officer stop. J. Dean Keegan and Thomas D. Farnsworth have a combined criminal law experience of over 20 years. Keegan and Farnsworth offer free consultations to inform the accused of potential issues in their case. This blog is not intended as legal advice. If you find yourself in a similar situation to the blog article above pplease contact Attorney J. Dean Keegan or Thomas D. S. Farnsworth at our Iowa City or Cedar Rapids office for a free consultation.