Fourth Amendment Saves Man from Drug and Firearm Convictions

Jun 30, 2015

In one of its last rulings of the 2014-2015 term, the Iowa Supreme Court says a locked safe in the car of an arrested driver cannot be searched without a warrant.

During a December 2012 traffic stop, a Davenport police officer found a partially smoked blunt. The driver Jesse Gaskins was arrested, handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser.

The officer then searched the vehicle, which police can do if there is probable cause of criminal activity. During the search the officer found a small, portable safe in the passenger compartment.

The officer unlocked the container using a key from the key ring in the van’s ignition. Inside was a loaded handgun with a defaced serial number, drug paraphernalia and marijuana.

Gaskins was later found guilty of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, failure to affix a drug tax stamp, and transporting a revolver in a vehicle. He was sentenced to up to five years in prison, though the order was later suspended and Gaskins was placed on probation for two years.

Gaskins appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court saying that the contents of the safe shouldn't be admissible as evidence since they were found without a warrant. 

The Iowa Supreme Court sided with Gaskins ruling the search of the safe violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars against unreasonable searches and seizures. Since officers were not in danger and there were no concerns that evidence from the safe would be destroyed, a warrantless search was not justified.

The case is remanded to the district court and the Scott County Attorney's office will decide whether to retrial Gaskins without the evidence found in the safe.