Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Odell G. McGhee II, District Associate Judge.
A defendant appeals the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop resulting in an operating-while-intoxicated conviction.
Rick Olson, Des Moines, for appellant.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Darrel Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, John Sarcone, County Attorney, and Kevin Bell, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.
Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.
A state trooper stopped Phillip Griffieon for failure to use his headlights. Evidence discovered following the stop resulted in Griffieon's conviction for operating while intoxicated. On appeal, Griffieon argues the district court should have suppressed that evidence because the trooper lacked a legitimate basis for stopping his truck. Deferring to the district court's credibility determination, we conclude the trooper had reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation. Accordingly, we affirm the denial of the motion to suppress.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings
Shortly after 2:30 a.m. on July 8, 2012, Trooper Marc Griggs saw a "black blob"—what he perceived as a motorist traveling without lights—approximately one-half mile away on Highway 69. The trooper followed the Dodge 2012 Ram pickup truck driven by Griffieon. Trooper Griggs activated the video recorder in his car, but the video captured only a brief portion of the pursuit and was poor quality. Trooper Griggs stopped Griffieon outside of the driver's Ankeny home.
During the stop Trooper Griggs noted Griffieon's bloodshot and watery eyes, his slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol. The trooper then initiated field sobriety tests, each of which Griffieon failed. Griffieon admitted he drank approximately nine beers that night. While under arrest for operating while intoxicated at 4:06 a.m., Griffieon submitted to a DataMaster test showing his blood alcohol level to be 0.159%—nearly twice the legal limit.
On October 2, 2012, Griffieon moved to suppress all the evidence from the stop, asserting Trooper Griggs did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop him because he "had not violated any rules of the road." At the suppression hearing, the trooper testified he did not believe Griffieon's headlights or taillights were turned on. He acknowledged the video recording showed "lots of reflections." Griffieon testified his truck's lights automatically came on when he was driving.
The district court denied the motion to suppress on October 10, 2012, reasoning the "[surrounding] facts and circumstances" created a reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop. On October 16, 2012, Griffieon filed a motion to reconsider, pointing the court to a frame of the video where his headlights appear to illuminate a fence post. The district court denied Griffieon's motion to reconsider "based on the totality of circumstances."
On December 3, 2012, following the denial of his motion to suppress, Griffieon agreed to a bench trial on the minutes of evidence, and the court found him guilty of his second offense of operating while intoxicated, an aggravated misdemeanor, under Iowa Code section 321J.2 ...