Cop Can't Stop Noisy Car Without Evidence of Annoyance, Iowa Court Rules

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: traffic stop, noise ordinance.

State of Iowa v. Laura E. Loots. Iowa traffic stop

On April 28, 2012, Laura E. Loots was driving through Burlington, Iowa, in Des Moines County. A Burlington police officer was parked in a parking lot talking with two reserve sheriff deputies when the officer heard the loud sound of Loots' car approach. The officer pulled the car over for violation of the local noise ordinance. During the course of the stop, the officer smelled an intoxicating beverage and marijuana coming from Loots' car. The officer searched the vehicle, and marijuana was found. Loots was given a citation for violating the noise ordinance, and she was later charged with possession of the marijuana.

Loots filed a motion to suppress the evidence as being the result of an illegal stop. The officer testified that she could hear music coming from the car from more than 50 feet away, and the Burlington ordinance prohibits noise that "annoys or disturbs a reasonable person" that can be heard more than fifty feet away. Loots pointed out that the officers hadn't testified that anyone had been annoyed or disturbed, but merely that the noise could be heard at 50 feet.

The trial court didn't buy it, and held that the stop was proper. Loots was found guilty and appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals, where she renewed her argument that the stop was improper.

Loots got a better reception by the appeals court. The Court of Appeals looked closely at the statute, and concluded that it required two elements. First, the noise must be heard at least 50 feet away. But it also made clear that there was a second element of the offense: It must annoy or disturb a reasonable person. The Court of Appeals then looked closely at the record. There was evidence that the sound was heard 50 feet away. But there was absolutely no evidence that the sound was annoying or disturbing. The Court of Appeals made clear that the mere fact that the officer stopped the car was not enough to show that the officer was annoyed or disturbed.

Since the stop was improper, the Court of Appeals held that the evidence should have been suppressed. Therefore, it sent the case back for a new trial.

Loots was represented in the appeal by attorney William Monroe of Burlington, Iowa.

No. 3-1089 / 12-1924 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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