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State of Iowa v. Stuart Bennett Roth

February 27, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey L. Poulson (motion to suppress), and Steven J. Andreasen (trial), Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Potterfield, J.

Stuart Bennett Roth appeals from his judgment, conviction, and sentence for possession of a controlled substance. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.

Stuart Bennett Roth appeals from his judgment, conviction, and sentence for possession of a controlled substance, contending the court should have granted his motion to suppress physical evidence. He also argues his counsel was ineffective in arguing the motion to suppress. We affirm, finding probable cause existed for the search of Roth's vehicle and that Roth's counsel was not ineffective.

I. Facts and Proceedings

On July 6, 2011, officers surveilling a residence suspected of housing illegal drug activity*fn1 saw Stuart Roth drive up to the house, park behind the residence, and leave shortly thereafter. Upon driving away, he was observed by police officers to be speeding over fifty miles an hour in a thirty to thirty-five mile an hour speed zone. Roth was pulled over, ordered out of the car,*fn2 and a uniformed officer conducted a pat-down for weapons. Another officer in plain clothes who had been observing the suspected house identified himself and proceeded to question Roth regarding the presence of marijuana in his vehicle.*fn3

The officer stated, "I know where you just came from and it's not a question of whether or not you have any weed . . . . It's a question of how much do you have and where you put it." After being asked again, Roth responded that the drugs were under the center console. The officer then placed Roth in handcuffs and searched the car, confirming the presence of marijuana. Roth did not consent to the search of his vehicle.

Roth was charged by trial information with driving while license revoked and possession of a controlled substance-third violation. Roth filed a written arraignment, pleading not guilty; he also waived his right to a trial by jury. He then filed a motion to suppress his statements made during the traffic stop and the physical evidence of marijuana found during the search of his car. In his motion, Roth argued the questioning by the plain-clothes officer constituted a custodial interrogation, and that the officers did not have probable cause to search his car absent his incriminating statements. The State responded that Roth was not in custody and that probable cause to search Roth's vehicle existed independently of his inculpatory statements. The district court found the questioning was a custodial interrogation and concluded Roth's statements should be suppressed at trial.

Regarding the marijuana seized, however, the court concluded that officers had probable cause for the search of Roth's vehicle pursuant to the vehicle exception to the warrant requirement, without the incriminating statements. At the hearing on the motion to suppress evidence, the court heard the testimony of three officers and admitted into evidence the officers' written application for a search warrant for the suspected drug residence. The officers testified that "stop and go" visits to a location is an indication of drug activity, that they had information from the Tri-State Task Force suggesting the residence was inhabited by a "pound supplier of marijuana," that a confidential informant from a different case knew about the drug supplier, that eventually three different informants said drugs were being sold from the house, and that one of the informants detailed that buyers would pull into the alley next to the residence- the same location where Roth parked during his brief visit to the house. The officers testified about a particular "stop and go" visit at the house which resulted in a marijuana charge five days before Roth's arrest. The search warrant application included that information, but also included Roth's arrest and was not submitted to a court until after Roth was stopped and charged. The written search warrant application included the dates of June 23, July 1, and July 6, when Roth was stopped and searched. The court denied the motion to suppress the marijuana and Roth's motion to reconsider, ruling that the officers had probable cause to search Roth's car, independent of Roth's statements.

Roth proceeded to a bench trial, renewing his motion to suppress, objecting to the admission of the physical evidence at trial, and filing a motion for judgment of acquittal. The trial court thoroughly reconsidered its earlier rulings on the motion to suppress and came to the same conclusions. The court admitted the marijuana into evidence and ultimately found Roth guilty of both counts. Roth filed a motion in arrest of judgment, arguing the search exceeded the scope of his traffic stop, citing State v. Pals, 805 N.W.2d 767 (Iowa 2011). The State resisted the motion, arguing that, even if the stop was pretextual, probable cause to search trumps an expansion of the scope of the stop. The court denied the motion, noting "[t]he court does not believe the Pals opinion changes the court's conclusions that were previously reached." Roth appeals his conviction and sentence for possession of a controlled substance.

II. Analysis

We review appeals from a district court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence based on constitutional grounds de novo. Pals, 805 N.W.2d at 771. "This review requires an independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances as shown by the entire record. This court gives deference to the factual findings of the district court due to its opportunity to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, but is not bound by such findings." Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). We review claims of ineffective assistance of counsel de novo. State v. Brubaker, 805 N.W.2d 164, 171 (Iowa 2011).

A. Probable Cause

Roth first argues his motion to suppress physical evidence should have been granted as the search was based on his suppressed statements which the district court found were obtained in violation of Miranda.*fn4 384 U.S. at 479. He argues no independent grounds existed for the warrantless search of his vehicle that produced the physical evidence and therefore the evidence should be excluded as fruit of the illegal questioning.*fn5 The state argues facts known to ...

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