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State v. Nguyen

Court of Appeal of Iowa

October 2, 2013

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
KIET M. NGUYEN, Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Odell G. McGhee II (suppression) and William A. Price (trial and sentencing), District Associate Judges.

A defendant appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress.

Matthew T. Lindholm of Gourley, Rehkemper & Lindholm, P.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Jean C. Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, Jacob Marshall, Legal Intern, John Sarcone, County Attorney, and Maurice W.B. Curry, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ.

DANILSON, J.

Kiet Nguyen appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained following the stop of his vehicle. He maintains the trooper did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle and asks that all evidence following the seizure be suppressed. Because we agree the trooper did not have the requisite level of suspicion to stop Nguyen, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On August 29, 2012, Iowa State Patrol Trooper Tyson Underwood noticed two vehicle registration stickers on the rear license plate of a vehicle traveling on I-235 in Des Moines. The current 2013 registration sticker was placed in the bottom, left corner of the license plate. The registration sticker from 2012 was placed directly above it. The trooper also observed Nguyen's vehicle weave within its own lane of travel, noting two occasions where he saw the vehicle "come near a line marker." Trooper Underwood, narrating what he is observing on video from his patrol car, can be heard saying, "The vehicle, as you can see, is kind of riding on the solid fog line. It's not really crossing over any lanes, but just kind of weaving a little bit from lane marking to lane marking." At one point, Nguyen did change traffic lanes, but only after signaling. Trooper Underwood initiated a traffic stop based on his observations. Nguyen was eventually arrested and charged with operating while intoxicated (OWI).

Nguyen filed a motion to suppress the evidence alleging the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop his vehicle. He maintained that he had the current valid registration sticker in the lower left hand corner of the rear license plate, as required by Iowa Administrative Code rule 761–400.53. He claimed there is no rule requiring expired stickers to be removed from the rear license plate, and while he had the prior year's registration sticker placed immediately above the current year's sticker in the lower left quadrant of his license plate, this fact does not justify a stop of his vehicle. He also asserted the weaving observed on the trooper's dashboard camera was minor, and he never crossed over a lane divider without properly signaling.

At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the district court observed the video and heard the trooper's testimony. The court denied the motion, finding the trooper had reasonable suspicion to pull Nguyen over based on the totality of the circumstances. Following the court's denial, Nguyen waived his right to a jury trial and proceeded to a bench trial on the stipulated minutes of testimony. The court found him guilty of OWI, first offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2011). He was sentenced to one year in jail with all but three days suspended. Nguyen was placed on probation for one year, assessed the applicable fines, and directed to complete a substance abuse evaluation and treatment. He appeals.

II. Standard of Review.

Nguyen contends his vehicle was stopped in violation of the federal and state constitutions, although he has not proposed a different standard under the search and seizure provisions under the Iowa Constitution. See State v Tyler, 830 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Iowa 2013). ("Because [the defendant] has not proposed a standard for interpreting our search and seizure provisions under the Iowa Constitution differently from its federal counterpart, we will apply the general standards as outlined by the United States Supreme Court for addressing a search and seizure challenge under the Iowa Constitution."). We review claims regarding constitutional rights de novo. Id. We ...


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