Shock Ruling: Iowa Judge Dismisses Case Against Jockey Caught With Five Buzzers

by | 10.27.2014 | 10:14pm
An illegal electrical device that can be used to stimulate horses

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.”


    The cheating in America is just outlandish

    • lastromantribune

      it all starts at the top in society…if your not cheating your not trying

      • Umpscous

        Or if you can’t beat them, join them.

  • diastu in tempe

    Horse owners will refuse to use him. Oh wait – sure they will.

  • Michael Castellano

    I suspect he wasn’t the only one using a buzzer at this track. Very foolish and a bit arrogant not to do a little more investigation and get a warrant rather than go on a fishing trip. It’s easy to get one these days.

    • Dadnatron

      They were strictly within the bounds of the law. The problem is that the law was deemed unconstitutional. The only thing they didn’t ‘do right’ was that they searched in the parking lot rather than on ‘regulated track property bounds’. But, by the sound of the ruling it wouldn’t have mattered. A law, regardless of how written, cannot supersede the basic rights of a Citizen without merit. This judge said the law did not meet this merit requirement.

      What he did was wrong, and I think owners should refuse to allow him to ride. But his right to personal privacy must be maintained… so that yours and mine can be maintained as well. They can do it again, and do it within the bounds of privacy next time.

      • lastromantribune

        “What he did was wrong, and I think owners should refuse to allow him to ride”….it will only encourage some to use him

  • TinnerJack

    Maybe tracks can hire the TSA to start “wanding” jockeys, their tack and the horse before each race…lol (but probably not a bad idea…) I think this jockey should be the Jockey Guild’s “Jockey of the Week”. Outstanding get out of jail performance! Owners and Trainers who use this guy should be so proud. I would like to see their names published so they can all bask in the glow of this awesome competitor.

    • Really?

      Funny thing is, they already do this. I’ve seen jockeys wanded on their way to the paddock. Haven’t seen a horse wanded though.

      • Horse Guy

        They need to wand the outriders. In many cases, the jocks have arranged to store their machines with a specific pony person. It certainly avoids being caught in the Jocks room or on the way to the paddock.

  • Not too late for him to get a Breeders’ Cup mount.

  • Fast Filly

    I do believe that some tracks have been known to stop trainers and trailers outside the grounds n serach them..This might stop that…

  • Nayrod

    Until stewards get balls, this is one of many reasons this sport stays crocked! It’s a bad chain reaction from owner/trainer/workers etc, etc, etc. It ruins it for the good owners/trainers/workers that love this sport and are true!

  • Hamish

    Has the Jockey’s Guild issued a statement, as a result of this case or any other, suggesting that any jockey caught in possession of one of these electrical devices will be thrown out of the guild and lose all benefits, present and future?

    • betterthannothing

      Good idea however, many jockeys don’t belong to the JG. Racing needs a central authority with proper investigators and legal team to deal with its felons efficiently.

    • Interested Observer

      The Guild represents only a modest percentage of jocks all across the country and they offer NO benefits to be taken away. The JG exists only to benefit the two or three individuals at the top of the organization. It’s one of the biggest shams out there.

      • Hamish

        Wow, I thought the Jock’s Guild covered all licensed riders, my bad. The fact that they don’t is obviously why the guild hasn’t taken a public position on this and other similar situations. Now I get it.

  • betterthannothing

    Bravo! Prairie Meadows and special agent Ludwick for failing to nail Morales, the abusive, cheating perp, and horsemen for using him!

  • Surely this decision will be appealed, right?

    • johnnyknj

      Unlikely Barry. Though I wish his banishment was upheld, the opinion is lucid and well written. Don’t think an appeal would have much chance.

      • bryan e

        I don’t think the clarity or quality of the writing in the opinion is what they base appeals decisions on. They base them on arguments related to the interpretation and application of the law. If something is incorrect, it doesn’t matter how lucid and clear your prose is, it’s still incorrect. However, I don’t think her opinion was incorrect. And I doubt they will spend the time and money on the appeal.

        • johnnyknj

          You are of course right. I was not particularly lucid in my comment. What I meant was the opinion clearly laid out the legal underpinnings of the decision. I do think that a correct decision with a well written opinion is less prone to appeal than the same decision with an incoherent or sloppily written opinion.

    • harnobuff

      I nominate the Judge’s opinion for the Barry “Only My Equally Judgmental Friends Can Win” Irwin writing contest. The U.S. Constitution in one corner and Barry, Rabid Ray and Bill Finley in the other. Let’s see how they fix this race!

    • Convene

      I wish I could think it will – but, pessimist and realist that I am, I seriously doubt it. Sometimes it seems integrity is a synonym for, “Whatever we can get away with.”

  • Bellwether

    The Jerk might be restored but he damn sure isn’t in good standing…What he needs is a good old *** whipping…

    • stinky13

      I think lighting him up with a taser would be more appropriate.

  • bugweed

    Horse racing is a regulatory farce at this point. Between the drugs, these types of cheats, and the “what me worry” attitude of the industry, it doesn’t have a bright future.

    • Jocke Muth

      Actually in this case it is the US judicial system that is a farce.
      As a license holder you have given the racing authority’s your permission to search your vehicle at any time on property owned by a Racing permit.
      This search (according to the court transcript) happened in the Parking lot owned by the racetrack.
      It seams like it is the US courts that make regulations in Racing in to a farce.
      I think it is up to the owners to see to it that people like this dude don’t have anything to do with their horses.
      Put pressure on their trainers to not use people who don’t comply with the rules of racing.

      • Dadnatron

        I disagree. The courts said the Law was unconstitutional and that the track didn’t even live up to its own standards according to the law anyway. Personal privacy is paramount. They could have done it differently, but they did it within the bounds of a poor law. Hopefully, they will do it better next time. It wasn’t the investigator’s or the Track’s fault… it was the fallacious law they were working under which was wrong.

      • mdwalk

        You cannot sign your Constitutional rights away.

        • Jocke Muth

          When you are on private property because of conditional rules that you have approved when you got the permit to use that same property you do sign away your constitutional rights same as when you enter a security zone at an airport for example ( don’t try to tell me that the TSA’s treatment of passengers are with in the constitutional rights).

  • MR. Smith

    …so much for those “mid-west family values,honesty,and truth

  • JustJoe

    Activist judge. The entire racetack property is subject to the rules of the racing commission. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation should be able to appeal and the track should ban the rider as an undesirable under their private property rights.

  • Jocke Muth

    US racetracks need to make “house rules” that prohibits any person subject of a suspension hearing or waiting for a court hearing regarding a stay of suspension “persona non grata”.
    As racetracks are private property, the owner/owners do have the right to not admit persons to their property.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    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 adoptShoemaker’s adventurous conclusion that persons engaged in a heavily regulated business necessarily have a diminished expectation of privacy in their persons and personal effects.”

    I would argue this is not really the case at all. The safety of the public and other riders are most certainly at risk if a buzzer causes a horse that is already exhausted to over exert themselves and fall or break down. It would also be possible that a horse just goes bezerk after getting buzzed and tosses the jock and heads off in any direction, thus being a risk to public safety.

    Regardless, though, it once again illustrates that when tracks and stewards do these investigations and make these rulings, they need to make sure they are following the letter of the law or a defense attorney will do this and win every time.

    • betterthannothing

      Don’t forget horses who crash into the rail. I wish animal cruelty was taken seriously and punished. The welfare of those horses always seem to fall through the cracks.

    • railbird

      I’ve always wondered if stepping on one could cause a breakdown. However unlikely, I
      do know that stones and sharp objects can damage the frog and cause bruises, and anytime you interrupt the horses’ action you risk injury. Would like a vet or farrier’s opinion.

  • Dan Jividen

    Yes, Maggi. I can’t believe the Iowa stewards rolled over on this. They should use their administrative powers to rule “Buzz” Morales off for a long time. Why is it that jockeys always seem to have better lawyers in cases like this than the state racing commissions do?

  • jojo

    I hope he doesn’t ever get any mounts he’s an abuser and a cheater. Nuff said.

  • Berg

    I’m surprised as big as it is he hasn’t gotten caught in a race with it, they make them much smaller than that

  • jazz mania

    I’d be surprised that any agent would represent him. Maybe the comish wants to let the market decide how much work to give him.

    • Ben van den Brink

      When everyone starts an PR on social media, maybe the owners are backing off from hiring him.

  • Dee P.

    Morales isn’t alone. Lots of jockeys are getting away with using buzzers. Heck, even Stevens admitted to using one, and says it was years ago…but I’m doubting that one, because he’s from right here in my hometown, and he would have been caught at our bull ring for sure. Small track, tight security. How can you punish one jockey without coming down on all of them? It sounds like the ones doing this are now home free to me. Another black mark for racing.

  • bryan e

    The main thing I take from this is that the judge does not consider horse racing a sport or jockeys to be athletes. She states that horse racing is merely a source of gambling and amusement rather than an actual sporting competition where their would be some expectation of integrity. I wish she was incorrect.

  • lastromantribune


  • Jamie Mardis

    Anything that happens on the track should stay there and make him go else where

  • Jamie Mardis

    I need one of those lol might help my son move it, move it, move it lol

  • KrissyM

    Okay trainers and owners Time to step up and just not use this jockey.

  • Eddie Donnally

    I am not qualified to discuss the legalities of this case. However, as a former rider who admitted to using illegal electrical devices in my book, “Ride the White Horse,” I maintain, as I did in the article I wrote on the use of “machines, batteries” by riders in this publication earlier this year, that a search by a metal detecting wand based on probably cause, inside the jockeys room-well within the track grounds-after a rider or riders are dressed and ready to go to the track to ride and/or a search when riders return, would do much to deter their use and are far less invasive than the search of an automobile or making a rider strip as is the current protocol.

    If random tests for drugs and alcohol use by riders are legal-and it may or may not be-these non-invasive wand searches would be legal. If security agents simply picked out a random race once or twice a month and wand searched every rider going to and coming from the track they could not be accused of prejudice, and I am convinced would greatly reduce or eliminate the use of these devices. Were I “packing,” and saw an agent in the jockeys room carrying a wand, I probably would have fainted..
    Eddie Donnally “Ride the White Horse.”

    • Billy Burress

      Having been a jockey and lucky enough to ride in many of the big Quarter Horse races in the southwest I can honestly say it’s just not worth it to even think about packing anymore. Almost anywhere I went the last few years I rode there was a shake down either going out or coming back in from a race and it wasn’t always the big race of the day that got shook down. I must say that in truth I’ve be guilty of packing in a race as has just about all the oldtimers have but I don’t think a machine ever really helped me win a race. I have worked some horses that haven’t been putting out their best efforts in the past several races with a machine and then not used it one race day and them run their best race. I feel that a machine has cost me winning a race more times than it helped me win.

  • johnnymac27

    Perhaps the Stewards were merely recognizing the property interest this man possesses in his Racing License. Due process is owed on the rule violation charges and surely the constitutional implications of the court’s decision will be “law of the case” in the administrative proceeding. Here the State’s “evidence” was “fruit from a poison tree” and therefore was inadmissible. The Stewards would likewise recognize the “evidence” as inadmissible and adjust their adjudication to fit the new legal circumstances. Here they chose reinstatement, the most cautious choice. Why? Because any other adverse action by the Board against the Licensee at this point would amount to a “summary suspension,” a sanction which would require proof from the State within a few days. Proof the State does not have after this court decision. Just as important, a summary suspension right now would possibly be in contravention to the precedent created by the court and appear defiant in the face of the specific legal findings made.

  • Dan Jividen

    Sounds like the Iowa Racing Commission needs to ask the attorney general to assign them new counsel. Perhaps one who has read the pertinent statutes and administrative rules?

  • Ed Erdody

    I believe that if they did not they would be liable for suit. I do not know if Iowa is like New Jersey for example and state police guarded. Again no unity in our industry from running races at the same time, medication, security & general ethics.

  • Master of Puppets

    The best part was when they interviewed a horse he had ridden at the meet for a response to the ruling when he heard it,he said “I WasTotally Shocked !!!”.

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram