Cops Had Probable Cause, Even Though Database Was Wrong

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: probable cause.

State of Iowa v. Alejandro Soilo Manzanares. IA probable cause for stop

In 2011, Waterloo, Iowa, police received information that a light-skinned man from Minnesota would be trafficking drugs at Flirt's Gentleman's Club In Waterloo. Officer Joseph Zubak went to the club's parking lot where he saw only one car with Minnesota license plates. He looked up the registration and determined that the car was owned by Alejandro Manzanares.

The officer returned to the club about four hours later and saw the same car turn into the parking lot, where the driver sat for five or ten minutes before driving away. The officer followed the car, and while doing so, ran Manzanares's name and date of birth to obtain driver's license information. He found no such records in either the Minnesota or Iowa databases. The officer noted that the driver of the car fit the description of the car's registered owner, Manzanares. He did the search again, and found no record of any driver's license for Manzanares. Therefore, he pulled the car over and asked the driver, Manzanares, for his license. Initially, Manzanares said that he couldn't find it, but gave his name, date of birth, and social security number. The officer's dispatcher tried to look up any driver's license, but once again found no such records in either the Minnesota or Iowa databases. But lo and behold, Manzanares eventually found his Minnesota driver's license, which turned out to be valid.

As a result of the stop, various drugs were found in the car, and Manzanares was charged and subsequently convicted in Black Hawk County court. Manzanares then appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals, where he argued that the stop was improper, and that the resulting evidence should have been suppressed.

The officer had mistakenly believed that Manzanares was driving without a valid license, and had based his stop on these grounds. The Court of Appeals held that the officer did have probable cause, even though he was ultimately proven wrong. He ran the search at least twice, as did the dispatcher. The court noted that the case would be stronger if the officer had received a response that the person was not licensed, as opposed to a response of no record. However, the court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to make a stop, although it would not have been sufficient for an actual arrest.

The Court cited an earlier case which held that a mistake by the officer did not make a search illegal, and held that this case was controlling here. For that reason, it affirmed the defendant's conviction.

No. 4-007 / 12-1897 (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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