Iowa Supreme Court Asked If A Bag Is A Container

Sep 20, 2017

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday evening in a case that looks at how far a person’s right to privacy extends during a warrantless search by law enforcement.

In October 2015, Bion Ingram was driving a car that wasn’t his. When he was pulled over by a Jasper County Sheriff’s deputy, the deputy noticed the registration did not correspond to the car’s license plate.

The deputy decided the car needed to be towed. So he did an inventory of the vehicle’s items, and found a black, drawstring bag that contained methamphetamine. Ingram was later convicted of possession. 

Ingram argues this incident violated his constitutional rights in two ways.

First, he says the seizing of the car was unconstitutional because the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department lacked a standardized procedure for determining when impounding a vehicle is appropriate. For a car to be towed a department requires a clear set of guidelines, or else the decision is seen as too discretionary. 

The state of Iowa argues because the vehicle lacked proper registration and wasn’t owned by Ingram, there was no way the deputy could let him drive away. But Justice David Wiggins didn’t seem convinced.

"Isn’t that saying just because the officer did it that means it’s a policy? And then it’s a good policy because you don’t want a car on the road without registration? That’s a circular argument," he said. "I mean there’s either a written policy or there’s not written policy."

Ingram also says the state should have never opened the black bag that contained the meth. During this type of warrantless search, containers can’t be opened as this violates a person's reasonable expectation of privacy.

But Justice Bruce Zager questioned whether a drawstring bag is, in fact, a container. 

"I’m still struggling with the idea that a little pouch that you mind on the floor board of the car really meets that definition of container," he said.

Justices will likely decide the case by the end of this year.