DES MOINES, Iowa — At first glance, it looks like your average traffic stop.
“They look virtually indistinguishable through their vehicle with the highway patrol,” said Parrish Kruidenier attorney Brandon Brown.
Brown’s client, 16-year-old Peyton Atzen, thought so when he was ticketed for speeding near Southeast Polk High School in May. But then, Brown found out something unusual.
“He was actually stopped by a Motor Vehicle Enforcement Officer with the Iowa Department of Transportation,” said Brown.
Since it was not an Iowa State Patrol Trooper, Atzen and Brown took action.
“We concluded that the Iowa DOT doesn’t have the authority to stop motorists for speeding tickets,” said Brown.
Brown cites Iowa Code section 321.476 and 321.477, which state authority is given to the department to stop any vehicle for the purposes of weighing and inspection and that they can make arrests based on registration, size, weight, and load.
Polk County District Court Associate Judge Heather Lauber sided with Brown’s argument and dismissed the over $200 speeding ticket.
“Iowa DOT disagrees with the conclusion of the judge that we lack authority to issue traffic violations,” said Andrea Henry, Iowa DOT Director with the Office of Strategic Communications
The DOT says their MVE officers are not limited by Iowa code.
“MVE officers are fully trained and certified peace officers that are well qualified and equipped to detect traffic violations and issue citations,” said Henry.
After his client’s victory, Brown is now worried about others.
“It appears as though there are tens of thousands of tickets in the last few years alone where the department collected millions,” said Brown.
Despite the ruling, it looks as if MVE vehicles still have the green light from the DOT to enforce the law on Iowa roads.
“This is particularly concerning given that excessive speed is one of the top contributors to highway fatalities,” said Henry. “We believe it is important that our officers are enforcing as well. We don’t have immediate plans to discontinue non-commercial enforcement.”
The DOT has not decided if it will appeal the decision.
Brown says he will soon file for an injunctive relief that could order the DOT to stop issuing tickets that are outside of their authority based on Iowa code.