We don't envy a judge the responsibility he or she must bear. What may seem simple, black-and-white to us, the public, can be so complicated in a courtroom, where the intent of the law as well as the letter of it, and often conflicting precedents, must be weighed.
Such is the case with a story we report in today's issue, as the Iowa Court of Appeals overturns a Buena Vista County opinion stemming from a deputy's stop of a car.
The local court found the officer had sufficient reason to pull the car over; the appeals court decided that she did not.
I would imagine that has to be a bit frustrating for law enforcement. Can you act on information and intuition in an effort to protect the public, or can't you?
In fact, the decision seems to say, cops have no right to stop a car and check the driver's license and registration until they have first-hand evidence that an indictable offense has occurred.
That's probably great news for criminals. I'm not sure it's such great news for the public.
In this case, a witness reported seeing a car running a stop sign and driving recklessly in rural BV County, nearly causing an accident with another vehicle. The person said they had seen the same car do the same things before.
The witness described this car down to the make, model, color, out-of-area plates, number and gender of people in it, and a thick coat of dust. When the deputy spotted a car exactly matching the description, in the same area, she pulled it over to check the driver's status and ask about the reports of reckless driving.
The court said that dust could come or go in the two days between the witness report and the stop, which is true enough.
As, it turned out, the driver allegedly confessed to being in the country illegally, having no driver's license, and the traffic stop apparently led to forgery charges.
The message is that the end does not justify the means, I suppose, and this is certainly a valid point.
Based on the appeals court decision, the officer should have done nothing, and let the car go on its way, because she had not seen the driver run a sign with her own eyes, and had no proof the driver was guilty of a crime or that the car was the same one the witness had seen.
So, what happens when the officer doesn't stop the reckless driver - and the next time he runs a sign, an innocent person is hurt or killed?
Or, what if officers fielded a witness report of a car filled with illegal weapons, a rolling meth lab, or a suicidal driver? Would the same thing be true - officers should not stop it because they haven't seen a crime take place? Is law enforcement supposed to wait for the tragedy before stepping in?
I'm far from knowledgable on the law, but in my naive and admittedly uneducated view, it seems as though this would handcuff our officers if followed 100 percent.
We do have to put our belief in the Constitution and its amendments, I understand. We have to stand behind our framework of justice, Miranda rights, reasonable suspicion, rights to an attorney before interrogation, consent or a warrant for a search - all of it.
The protections are there for a reason. Without them, there is no guarantee that somewhere, sometime, wanton searches and seizures without reasonable evidence might unfairly disrupt lives.
None of us would want to be on a trip somewhere, and be pulled over and searched, interrogated or detained for no reason.
Would we understand, however, if we were quickly checked and allowed to go on our way if the car we happen to drive matched the description of one that is reportedly threatening public safety in some way?
It is not our place to second guess the courts, and we respect every point the appeals court decision made. And yet, it seems to us that the officer acted on the information she had, trying to protect the public she serves, in stopping that car.
RAGBRAI has just about everything. Entertainment, food, t-shirt shops aplenty, beer gardens, and a gazillion porta-potties. Everything, that is, but Willie Nelson.
Local Democrat Tim Humes recently proposed to the party organization that it invite the legendary singer for the event. He hopes that Nelson will perform a Farm Aid concert here, in support of alternative food cropping, water quality protection and oil pipeline concerns, all of which are current issues in the area.
With the party's blessing, and after checking to see that Nelson's schedule would be open that week, Humes said, he called the Farm Aid headquarters near Boston to pitch the concert.
While they are not responsible for booking Willie's shows, they said they would forward the request to Nelson's management, and contact Storm Lake United if anything can be done. It's a long shot, but what the heck.
Humes, who was in the crowd for Willie's last area concert eight years ago in Okoboji, remains hopeful that Nelson will be willing to be "On the Road Again."