Shock Ruling: Iowa Judge Dismisses Case Against Jockey Caught With Five Buzzers - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Shock Ruling: Iowa Judge Dismisses Case Against Jockey Caught With Five Buzzers

Stewards at Prairie Meadows racetrack & casino in Iowa have reinstated the license of jockey Roberto Morales – found earlier this year to be in possession of five electrical devices and a handgun – after a District Court judge ruled the Iowa law permitting a warrantless search of his vehicle was unconstitutional.

On June 5, 2014, acting on a tip that some Prairie Meadows jockeys may be using electrical devices – often called buzzers, batteries or machines – to stimulate their mounts in races, special agent Mark Ludwick of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation conducted a warrantless search of four jockeys and their vehicles in the track's parking lot. Nothing was found on the jockeys or in three of the vehicles, but Ludwick's search of Morales' car produced five batteries, a .25 caliber firearm and a prescription drug without a prescription.

Morales was arrested and charged with three counts of prohibited acts for possessing three working and two non-working electrical devices, unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of prescription drugs. Stewards summarily suspended Morales the following day.

The search was permitted under Iowa code section 99D.8A(5), which states: “The licensee or a holder of an occupational license shall consent to agents of the division of criminal investigation of the department of public safety or commission employees designated by the administrator of the commission to the search without a warrant of the licensee or holder's person, personal property and effects, and premises which are located within the racetrack enclosure or adjacent facilities under control of the licensee to inspect or investigate for criminal violations of this chapter or violations of rules adopted by the commission.”

Attorneys for Morales filed a motion to suppress the evidence and to dismiss the charges because they claimed the Iowa law requiring a licensee's consent to search was unconstitutional. They also argued the search was not conducted, as specified by the code, “within the confines of a racetrack, stable shed, building or grounds, or within the confines of a stable, shed, building or grounds where a horse or dog is kept.” The search of Morales' vehicle was conducted in a parking lot shared with the general public outside of the racetrack gates or stable area.

Judge Carla Schemmel of Iowa's Fifth District Agent wrote in her opinion that “Agent Ludwick required either a warrant or some independent individualized suspicion, if not probable cause, to search defendant's person and personal effects. Because Agent Ludwick lacked both, the search of defendant in this case was unreasonable in violation of Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Her decision is contrary to a 1985 U.S. District Court ruling in New Jersey in which jockey Bill Shoemaker and other riders lost a lawsuit against Hal Handel, then executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, over a random drug and alcohol testing program imposed by regulators.

Saying it “received a wave of criticism from federal and state courts across the country,” the judge wrote that “few courts have followed the Shoemaker decision, and then only in areas involving security and public safety.”

Judge Schemmel wrote that the Iowa law is not primarily concerned with public safety, but with integrity. “This provision exists solely to ensure that jockeys adhere to fair practices in what can only be described, at its best, as a gambling venture and source of public amusement. … The Court therefore declines to adopt Shoemaker's adventurous conclusion that persons engaged in a heavily regulated business necessarily have a diminished expectation of privacy in their persons and personal effects.”

The section of that code permitting warrantless searches of a jockey's “person, personal property and effects,” she wrote, “is facially unconstitutional.

“Any such slippery slope rationale to justify a warrantless search eviscerates the command of the Fourth Amendment and creates a subclass of Americans unworthy of its full protection based on their chosen occupation,” she wrote.

As a result, evidence taken in that search was suppressed and may not be used in court.

Judge Schemmel also ruled the state failed to prove that a racetrack parking lot is covered under the code as part of the “racetrack enclosure” or adjacent facility.”

As a result of that interpretation of Iowa code, all counts against Morales were dismissed.

Stewards thus ruled on Saturday: “Based upon Judge Schemmel's ruling, Jockey Roberto Morales is hereby restored to good standing.”

UPDATE: Brian Ohorilko, administrator for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said any decision on whether or not to appeal will not be a matter for the IRGC, since the case was a criminal proceeding.

“The Stewards are reviewing the information with our legal counsel, and it is likely that an administrative hearing will be held with respect to circumstances,” Ohorilko said in an rail to the Paulick Report. “Should any administrative action be taken by the Stewards, it would be independent of this recent ruling. From a practical and logistical standpoint, the meet has ended in Iowa (one State Steward is seasonal and one works in a reduced capacity in the off-season)  so it may take us longer to work through the issues mentioned in the criminal proceeding and/ or schedule a hearing.”

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