Iowa Supreme Court overturns drug possession conviction of Texas trucker after Worth County stop

NORTHWOOD — A trucker from Texas who was arrested in Worth County in 2020 on marijuana possession charges has won an appeal of his conviction in the Iowa Supreme Court.

Stephen Arrieta was traveling through Iowa as he hauled a load of insulation from Minnesota to Texas. His semi failed a PrePass check just north of the Northwood DOT weigh station on Interstate 35, so he pulled into the weigh station. A DOT officer initiated an inspection which included assistance from the Worth County K-9 handler to conduct a free air drug dog sniff around the perimeter of the semi.

The officer also had to check on a potential stolen VIN number report on the truck, which was later determined to be incorrect. The drug dog alerted to the smell of narcotics coming from inside the vehicle, and Arrieta admitted that he had a small amount of marijuana in the sleeper compartment.

During the district court trial, a  judge denied Arrieta’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of an allegedly unconstitutional stop and ensuing search of the vehicle, adding that he was unlawfully detained for the sole purpose of waiting for the drug dog to show up after all other details of the inspection were completed.

The Iowa Court of Appeals had upheld the district court’s ruling and conviction back in January, but today the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling vacating the Court of Appeals decision as well as reversed and remanded the district court’s judgment, saying that Arietta’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the drug dog’s free air sniff occurred, and any evidence obtained should have been suppressed.