Civil Rights Groups Ask Iowa Supreme Court to Ban Pretextual Traffic Stops

Nov 30, 2017

Four civil rights groups are asking the Iowa Supreme Court to ban pretextual traffic stops on the grounds they are unconstitutional and perpetuate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. 

A pretextual traffic stop is when a police officer stops a driver for a minor issue like a broken taillight with the intent to investigate a suspected criminal offense. 

"African-Americans and other Iowans of color are more likely to be stopped, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent," says Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP. 

The ACLU of Iowa, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, and 1000 Kids for Iowa also signed on to this request.

The groups cite data from some cities in Iowa showing police are more likely to stop black drivers and much more likely to arrest them. Some high-profile police shootings of African-Americans in recent years started with traffic stops for broken taillights or failure to use a turn signal.

The groups’ effort to ban these stops comes as a "friend of the court" brief in a case from Waterloo. A police officer stopped a black woman under the pretext one of two license plate lights was out and because she went through an intersection during a yellow light. The groups claim evidence used in her case should not be allowed in court because it was obtained during a pretextual stop. 

"The goal of this brief is to ensure that all Iowans are treated the same on our highways and byways, and our interactions with police are equalized," Andrews says.

Andrews says these traffic stops feed into major racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system and lead many African-Americans to fear police officers.