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State of Iowa v. Donald R. Hunt

April 24, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DONALD R. HUNT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert B. Hanson (motion to suppress) and Michael D. Huppert (trial), Judges.

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

Donald Hunt appeals from his convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and possession of heroin with intent to deliver. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

Donald Hunt appeals from his convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and possession of heroin with intent to deliver. He argues the district court improperly denied his motion to suppress. We affirm, finding Hunt voluntarily gave implied consent for the officers to enter his hotel room, and therefore, the district court properly denied his motion to suppress.

I. Facts and Proceedings.

On December 10, 2010, Donald Hunt was staying in a hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa. Responding to two reports of suspected drug activity in that hotel room, four Des Moines police officers approached the room to investigate, one of whom knocked on the door. Hunt opened the door. The police officers entered the room, saw drug paraphernalia in plain view, and requested permission to search the room. Hunt did not consent, and the officers obtained a search warrant for the room. During the search, illegal substances and paraphernalia were found. Hunt was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance, cocaine base crack, with intent to deliver, possession of a controlled substance, heroin, with intent to deliver, failure to process a tax stamp, and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver.

Hunt filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing he did not consent to the officers' entry into the hotel room. At a hearing on the motion, the court received testimony from four officers, Hunt, and Hunt's friend who was visiting his hotel room. The officers testified they knocked on the hotel room door, announced who they were, and Hunt then opened the door. After the first two officers displayed their police badges and said something about coming in to investigate complaints of drug activity, Hunt stepped to the side and the officers entered the room.*fn1 Hunt and his friend testified the officers pushed him backwards into the room and entered over his objection. The court denied Hunt's motion to suppress based on the warrantless entry, ruling:

The court, as the finder of fact, must evaluate the credibility of witnesses when making its ruling. Hunt is a convicted felon who has every reason to avoid another felony conviction. His testimony -that the officers forced their way into his room over his vehement objections-is contradicted by four officers. [Hunt's friend] testified that she heard Hunt inquire as to why the officers were entering the room. [Hunt's friend] also admitted, however, to having a close relationship with the defendant. Her factually inaccurate testimony about marked police cars being present calls into question whether she was even at the [hotel] on December 10th. The testimony of the officers, therefore, establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that Hunt did indeed consent to the search of his room.

Trial proceeded on the minutes of testimony, and Hunt was convicted of possession of controlled substances, heroin and cocaine base crack, with intent to deliver. The remaining charges were dismissed. He appeals, contending the district court should have granted his motion to suppress.

II. Analysis.

Hunt's claim is constitutional; our review is therefore de novo. State v. Reinier, 628 N.W.2d 460, 464 (Iowa 2001). Though our review is de novo, we give deference to the trial court due to its opportunity to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses. Id.

Our supreme court considered a similar "knock and talk" encounter at a residence in Reinier:

In this case, we begin our analysis of the surrounding circumstances by considering the general investigative procedure utilized by the police which culminated in the consent given by Reinier to search her house. This procedure was characterized by police as a "knock and talk" investigation, which involves officers knocking on the door of a house, identifying themselves as officers, asking to talk to the occupant about a criminal complaint, and eventually requesting permission to search the house. If successful, it allows police officers who lack probable cause to gain access to a house and conduct a search.

Id. at 466 (internal citation omitted). The Fourth Amendment and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution are implicated when police intrude upon a person's legitimate expectation of privacy. Id. Neither party argues Hunt lacked an expectation of privacy in his hotel room. "Thus, entry into the area by police constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment, and we must determine if consent was given to enter the ...


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