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State of Iowa v. Jon Eric Scanlon


March 13, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Cynthia Moisan, Judge.

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

Jon Scanlon challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. REVERSED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Jon Scanlon appeals the denial of his motion to suppress. Because the officers unreasonably expanded the traffic stop, we reverse.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On August 19, 2011, Windsor Heights Police Officer Andrew Nissen and his training officer Lieutenant Rupiper initiated a traffic stop for an improper rear lamp on Jon Scanlon's vehicle in the southbound lanes of 73rd Street in Windsor Heights in the vicinity of the entrance and exit ramps to the I-235 freeway. The traffic stop was recorded by the on-board camera of the police car. A review of the camera recording shows the police car's lights were activated before reaching the northern on- and off-ramps for I-235. Scanlon proceeded at a legal speed under I-235 and pulled his car over south of the on- and off-ramps on the south side of I-235. Officer Nissen did not note any suspicious movements inside the vehicle. Both police officers approached Scanlon's vehicle; Officer Nissen obtained Scanlon's license, insurance, and registration, and the officers returned to the patrol vehicle. The officers' conversation was captured on the car's recording; one officer can be heard saying, "I mean, they didn't do anything, he wasn't moving around." The records check indicated Scanlon had a 2009 drug conviction, and the two officers discussed strategies to elicit consent to search, including calling in K-9 unit. Following the in-car conversation, Officer Nissen asked Scanlon to get out his vehicle to show him the faulty rear light and then the following occurred:

Officer Nissen: And then, also, I noticed it took you about two blocks to pull over.

Scanlon: Yea, and again that was just I didn't want to go off on the underpass.

Officer Nissen: No illegal contraband in the vehicle? Scanlon: No.

Officer Nissen: What was your drug-related conviction a couple years ago?

Scanlon: Growing marijuana.

Officer Nissen: Nothing in the vehicle now?

Scanlon: No.

Officer Nissen: Mind if I look real quick?

Scanlon: No, I'd prefer you didn't look.

Officer Nissen: Okay here's the deal, you didn't pull over in time you have to pull over like that (snaps his fingers).

Scanlon: You gotta understand here when you put your lights on I was coming under an underpass.

Officer Nissen: Um, I've been here 2 weeks and I've have had cars pull under there just fine.

Scanlon: Okay, well, I'll certainly keep that in mind next time. Officer Nissen: Well, actually I'm going to have you hang tight real quick. And then you don't have anything on your person do ya? Mind if I search ya? (Officer Nissen has Scanlon turn around place his hands behind his back. The officer holds onto Scanlon's hands and pats him down.) Okay, well here's the deal, I'm not threatening you but I'm just going to request a K9 to come walk around your vehicle due to fact that you have a previous drug conviction and you didn't come to stop right away. So that's just the route we're going to go. So you're nervous. I know there's something in there. I wasn't born yesterday. If ya got a little weed I'll kick you loose probably with a citation. I'm assuming that's what you have.

Scanlon: Um, yea.

Officer Nissen: Where is it at?

Scanlon: In my center console.

Officer Nissen: Okay, that's probably why you didn't pull over right away?

Scanlon: No, not at all. I literally did not pull over because of the underpass, and I'm really freaked out and let me tell you, this girl I'm dating has no idea.

Following this exchange, Scanlon was told to stand with Officer Rupiper while Officer Nissen searched his vehicle. At the conclusion of the search, the officers allowed Scanlon's date to drive his car away, and Scanlon was placed under arrest and taken to the Windsor Heights Police Department.

Scanlon was charged with possession of a controlled substance. He filed a motion to suppress, contending the officer did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to detain him or justify the request to search the vehicle and any consent to search was not voluntarily given. He also asserted the principles set out in a recent supreme court opinion had been violated.

At the hearing on the motion, Scanlon's counsel acknowledged the stop for the equipment violation was valid. Defense counsel stated that the "issue we're attacking is whether or not there was reasonable suspicion for the officer to continue in his detainment of Mr. Scanlon for the purpose of conducting a narcotics investigation."

Officer Nissen testified that when Scanlon pulled over, "He was very nervous. He had rapid eye movements and he was visibly shaking." Nissen stated this "wasn't your typical reaction." He also stated that in running Scanlon's information through dispatch, "[h]e had previous drug convictions." Officer Nissen eventually acknowledged that Scanlon had one conviction in 2009, and "besides the one conviction in '09, there [were] no physical signs, symptoms or indicators that specifically there was a narcotics related concern."

The district court denied the motion to suppress. It found that Officer Nissen's decision to request to search "was based upon specific and articulable facts, not just a hunch," and in any event, there is nothing "that prevents an officer during a valid, routine traffic stop from asking to search the vehicle." The court found Scanlon "clearly refused to consent." The court found further that "the business related to the traffic stop had been concluded at the time of the request to search." Nonetheless, the court concluded the defendant thereafter voluntarily admitted controlled substances were in the vehicle, which provided probable cause for the officer to search the vehicle.

Scanlon appeals.

II. Scope and Standard of Review.

We review constitutional issues de novo. State v. Pals, 805 N.W.2d 767, 771 (Iowa 2011). "This review requires 'an independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances as shown by the entire record.' The 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.(citations omitted).

III. Discussion.

There is no dispute that Scanlon did not expressly consent to the search.*fn1

At best, Scanlon's statements at the scene could be described as implied consent, but the State insists this is not a consent case and does not aver implied consent. The questions before us are (1) whether the expansion of the traffic stop was reasonable, and if so, (2) whether the defendant's admission of the presence of controlled substance in his vehicle was voluntarily made. We find the first dispositive and, therefore, do not address the second.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution provide protection to individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. State v. Kinkead, 570 N.W.2d 97, 100 (Iowa 1997). "Warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable unless the State proves by a preponderance of the evidence that a recognized exception to the warrant requirement applies." State v. Howard, 509 N.W.2d 764, 766 (Iowa 1993).

Scanlon argues that Officer Nissen improperly expanded the scope of the initial valid traffic stop. We agree.

A traffic stop is more analogous to an investigative detention than a custodial arrest, and the United States Supreme Court and our supreme court treat a traffic stop based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion under the standard set forth in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 (1968). See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439 (1984); Pals, 805 N.W.2d at 775. "Terry emphasized that the scope of the search must be strictly tied to and justified by the circumstances which rendered its initiation permissible." Pals, 805 N.W.2d at 775 (internal quotation marks omitted).

As a result, under traditional application of the exclusionary rule, "evidence may not be introduced if it was discovered by means of a seizure and search which were not reasonably related in scope to the justification for their initiation." Id. at 775--76 (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 29). A valid traffic stop may become "unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonable required to complete [its] mission." Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983). This means the seizure must be limited both in scope and duration. Id. So long as inquiries unrelated to the traffic stop "do not measurably extend the duration of the stop" they do not run afoul with the constitution. Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333 (2009).*fn2

Here, the issue relates to the scope of the seizure, although if the scope or authority of the officer is exceeded, the duration of the seizure is unlawful.

The State responds to Scanlon's claim that the officer unreasonably expanded the scope of the detention by contending that the "officer was still in the process of resolving the ambiguity with which he was faced and the possibility that criminal activity was afoot." This claim, however, is directly contradicted by Officer Nissen's testimony at the suppression hearing:

On cross examination, defense counsel asked the officer:

Q. When exactly did you find out that he had prior convictions for narcotics? A. When I had went back to my vehicle to run his driver's license and his passenger information and the vehicle registration.

Q. Sounds pretty early on. Would you say how early on is that? A. It would have been after my initial contact with the vehicle at which point I asked Mr. Scanlon to exit the vehicle to show him the equipment violation and then requested permission to search his vehicle.

Q. When you showed him the violation, which you said is your typical activity in a traffic ticket case, was there anything else that you had left to do as far as issuing a citation or investigation the citable offenses of the traffic violation. A. No.

Q. So after that point he was being detain completely on the suspicion that he potentially had narcotics in his car? A. After-can you repeat the question?

Q. After you showed him the taillight or whatever the reason for the stop was, you were done with the ticket at that point, correct? A. Correct.

Q. You weren't investigating the ticket charge any more right? A. No. (Emphasis added.) Significantly, even the district court noted the "business related to the traffic stop had been concluded at the time of the request to search."

Scanlon had a right to refuse to consent to a search and did so. See Pals, 805 N.W.2d at 783 (noting that the subject's knowledge of a right to refuse is a factor to be taken into account). At that point or earlier, Scanlon should have been free to leave. See Klamar, 823 N.W.2d at 696 ("But an intrusion that is not closely related to the initial justification for the seizure is invalid unless there is independent 'reasonableness to justify that particular intrusion.'"). Scanlon's detention after this point was unreasonable.

Absent the defendant's admission, there was not probable cause to search the vehicle. "A police officer has probable cause to search an automobile when the facts and circumstances would lead a reasonably prudent person to believe that the vehicle contains contraband." State v. McConnelee, 690 N.W.2d 27, 32 (Iowa 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). As acknowledged by Officer Nissen at the suppression hearing, Scanlon exhibited no physical signs, symptoms, or indicators to arouse a narcotics-related concern. He made no furtive movements. The prior drug conviction Scanlon had on his record was from 2009-two years prior. A single prior drug conviction may provide a hunch that an individual may possess illegal controlled substances in the future, but does not provide reasonable suspicion or probable cause.*fn3

Scanlon's response that the conditions were unsafe to pull over sooner is convincing and supported by the recording of the stop from the officer's vehicle: the area of the traffic stop involves on- and off-ramp traffic from the freeway under a concrete overpass.

The video also does not appear to support the conclusion that Scanlon was more nervous than anyone might feel during a traffic stop, although we acknowledge the limitations of the video and better vantage point of the trained officer. However, even if we could agree with the officer, a subject's nervousness without some other indicator of criminal activity does not provide sufficient reason to conduct a warrantless search. Cf. State v. Carter, 696 N.W.2d 31, 40 (Iowa 2005) (noting subject "turned onto another street"; "began rummaging to the right of him"; "veered across three lanes of traffic while his head was down, and struck the curb while his attention was focused on the console area rather than driving"; "quickly exited the vehicle, left the driver's door open, and appeared nervous"); see also United States v. Guerrero, 374 F.3d 584, 590 (8th Cir. 2004) (stating "it cannot be deemed unusual for a person to exhibit signs of nervousness when confronted by an officer"). One authority has noted that nervousness alone does not even justify a patdown search. See 4 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 9.4(f), at 180─81 (3rd ed. 1996) (noting that appearing nervous or quickening one's pace upon seeing police does not provide sufficient basis for a stop).

During arguments before this court, the State conceded that probable cause to search the vehicle did not exist until Scanlon's admission. The State also concedes that the continued detention cannot be supported to allow for time for a drug dog to arrive on the scene as the officer had not yet summoned the drug dog. Moreover, there is nothing in this record regarding the availability of a drug dog and, if available, how long it would take for the dog to arrive.

Even if it is permissible under our Iowa Constitution to ask a citizen questions unrelated to the traffic stop, and even if it is constitutional under these facts for the officer to ask Scanlon for consent to search his vehicle, after Scanlon refused consent, the continued detention of the defendant was unreasonable. After Scanlon refused consent, the officer's questioning became intrusive and resembled an interrogation. The routine traffic stop was transformed into a drug interdiction investigation. See United State v. Peralez, 526 F.3d 1115, 1121 (8th Cir. 2008) (concluding a traffic stop was unlawfully extended where the officer "engaged in a 'blended process' of conducting a routine traffic stop and a drug interdiction investigation"). At that point, and considering the totality of the circumstances, the officer had neither probable cause to search or a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. Accordingly, the traffic stop was unlawfully extended. Under these facts, we conclude that all evidence after the officer's request to search the vehicle must be suppressed.*fn4

We reverse. REVERSED.

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