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State of Iowa v. Tony Bounyalath

April 24, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TONY BOUNYALATH, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Adair County, David L. Christensen, Judge.

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

The State of Iowa appeals from the district court's ruling on defendant's motion to suppress. REVERSED.

Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

The State of Iowa appeals from the district court's ruling suppressing all evidence obtained during a search of defendant Tony Bounyalath's vehicle. The State argues the district court erred in failing to find the search was permissible. Because we find the search was lawful, we reverse.

I. Background Proceedings

On December 1, 2011, State Trooper Justin Simmons began following a Chevrolet Tahoe he observed exceeding the speed limit along Interstate 80 in western Iowa. The Tahoe was driven by Tony Bounyalath. Simmons made a number of observations including that the Tahoe had different front and rear California license plates. The Tahoe exited the highway as Simmons attempted to run a check of the license plate number. Simmons followed the Tahoe into a gas station parking lot and parked his vehicle some distance from Bounyalath, who parked immediately adjacent to the front entrance. Bounyalath was observed entering the gas station. Simmons followed a distance behind and walked past the Tahoe on his way into the gas station. In the rear compartment of the vehicle he observed a pillow, blanket, a number of unopened air fresheners, and energy drinks.

Simmons entered the gas station but was unable to locate Bounyalath. After entering the restroom and overhearing a man talking in one of the stalls, Simmons decided to wait inside the gas station so that he could speak with Bounyalath. During his wait Simmons decided to call Trooper Ryan Zenor to request a free air sniff by a drug dog. Zenor arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, and after conducting a visual inspection of the Tahoe and determining that a free air sniff would be appropriate, Zenor deployed his dog Ranger. Working around the outside of the car, Ranger gave a positive indication for narcotics near the rear bumper of the Tahoe. Zenor informed Simmons and another Trooper who had subsequently arrived on the scene.

Bounyalath eventually exited the restroom and was greeted by Simmons. Agreeing to answer some questions, Bounyalath described the purpose of his trip and explained the status of the plates on his vehicle. Simmons noted that Bounyalath appeared nervous during the conversation. Bounyalath then agreed to show Simmons the registration for his vehicle. While attempting to retrieve it from the glove box, Bounyalath was informed by Zenor that Ranger had given a positive indication for narcotics in the vehicle. The troopers testified that Bounyalath's knees buckled and his body visibly reacted to the information. After initially denying any knowledge as to why Ranger might detect the scent of narcotics coming from the vehicle, Bounyalath admitted that someone had smoked marijuana in the vehicle some time earlier.

Simmons accompanied Bounyalath back into the gas station so that Simmons could inspect the registration. After the troopers informed Bounyalath that the dog's indication gave them probable cause to search the vehicle, Bounyalath gave the troopers permission to search the vehicle, indicating they could, "Tear it up." Bounyalath also voluntarily submitted to a pat down after an empty gun container was found in the vehicle. No weapon was recovered.

Minutes later an additional trooper arrived on the scene and suggested, in an effort to reduce congestion near the front door of the gas station, that the parties move the vehicle to a Department of Transportation (DOT) garage one block away. Bounyalath agreed. The vehicle was moved and the search continued. During the search, one of the troopers noticed an irregularity with the rear hatch and, removing a plastic panel, discovered seventeen packages of marijuana. A small quantity of marijuana was also discovered under the front cup holder.

On January 3, 2012, Bounyalath was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(1)(d) (2011), failure to affix a drug tax stamp, in violation of Iowa Code sections 453B.3 and 453B.12, and prohibited acts, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.402.

On March 6, 2012, Bounyalath filed a motion to suppress the evidence discovered during the search. Following a hearing on April 18, 2012, the district court granted the motion in a two paragraph ruling. The State filed an application for discretionary review on June 6, 2012, which was granted by our supreme court on July 25, 2012.

II. Standard of Review

We review the district court's decision to suppress the evidence de novo. State v. Pals, 805 N.W.2d 767, 771 (Iowa 2011). Accordingly, we give the entire record an independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances. Id. In so doing, we will give deference to credibility ...


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