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State v. Lyon

Supreme Court of Iowa

April 17, 2015

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
BENJAMIN JOSEPH LYON, Appellant

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Carol S. Egly (suppression) and Carol L. Coppola (trial), Judges. The defendant seeks further review of a court of appeals decision affirming the district court's judgment and sentence for operating while intoxicated, second offense.

Brandon Brown of Parrish, Kruidenier, Dunn, Boles, Gribble & Gentry, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Maurice Curry and Olu Salami, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

APPEL, Justice. All justices concur except Hecht, J., who takes no part.

OPINION

Page 392

APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we consider the validity of a conviction for operating a motor vehicle

Page 393

while intoxicated, second offense. The police officer stopped Lyon's vehicle based upon a suspicion that Lyon was operating a vehicle without proper illumination in violation of Iowa Code section 321.388. Lyon claims the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop because the officer was too far from the vehicle to have more than a hunch that Lyon's license plate was improperly illuminated and because the headlights of the officer's vehicle interfered with his ability to observe whether a violation of law was occurring. Second, Lyon argues that after his arrest for driving while intoxicated, his rights under Iowa Code section 804.20 were violated because the officer failed to properly inform him of the purpose of a phone call under this Code provision.

We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed Lyon's conviction. We granted further review. We now vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the district court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

A. The Arrest.

Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Tart was on duty in Polk County at approximately 2:00 a.m. on May 31, 2013. At about that time, he stopped a vehicle driven by Benjamin Lyon based on his suspicion that the vehicle was operating without a properly illuminated rear license plate in violation of Iowa Code section 321.388 (2013).[1] After the stop and subsequent administration of three field sobriety tests, Deputy Tart arrested Lyon for driving while intoxicated.

At the station, Deputy Tart gave Lyon Miranda warnings and the implied-consent advisory required by Iowa Code section 321J.6. The defendant made three phone calls. After making the phone calls, Deputy Tart asked Lyon for a breath sample pursuant to the implied-consent law. Lyon refused. Ultimately, the State charged Lyon with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), second offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2.

B. Motion to Suppress.

Lyon filed a motion to suppress alleging both statutory and constitutional violations.

His statutory grounds were founded on Iowa Code section 804.20. According to the motion, Lyon placed his statutorily allowed phone calls prior to any law enforcement request for a breath specimen. Thus, at the time he was permitted to make the phone calls, Lyon asserted he had no knowledge he was going to be asked to provide a breath sample. Because of this timing, Lyon claimed he was deprived of his opportunity to speak to a family member or lawyer about whether to submit to testing, which he asserted is the primary purpose under Iowa Code section 804.20 of allowing telephone calls during an OWI investigation/arrest. Further, the motion to suppress claimed the investigating officer violated Iowa Code section 804.20 when, after Lyon asked about the purpose of the calls, the officer sidestepped the question and provided an evasive answer contrary to our caselaw under the statute. Because the purposes of the statute were not fulfilled, Lyon argued that his failure to submit to the test must be suppressed.

Lyon also asserted constitutional violations in his motion to suppress. He claimed the stop was not based upon reasonable suspicion or probable cause under

Page 394

the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The motion to suppress also cited article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution, but did not present a separate argument under the state constitutional provision.

The district court held a hearing on the motion to suppress. The sole witness at the hearing was Deputy Tart. With respect to the circumstances giving rise to the stop of Lyon's vehicle, Deputy Tart testified that in the early morning hours of May 31, 2013, he was " probably doing stationary patrol, waiting for cars to drive by that had some sort of a violation." He observed Lyon's vehicle and believed the license plate light was out. He followed Lyon's vehicle for some distance, making sure his headlights did not illuminate Lyon's license plate. Deputy Tart agreed that if you get within a hundred feet or so the headlights will illuminate the license plate because it contains reflective material. Based on his observation, Deputy Tart testified that he was " 100 percent certain" his headlights did not illuminate Lyon's license plate.

Turning to the Iowa Code section 804.20 claim, Deputy Tart testified that Lyon had refused to take a preliminary breath test at the scene of the stop. Deputy Tart testified he gave Lyon an opportunity at the police station to make phone calls. According to Deputy Tart, Lyon left voice mail messages for two persons and spoke with his father. After Lyon made the phone calls, Deputy Tart asked Lyon for a breath specimen. Lyon refused.

At the conclusion of the suppression hearing, the district court read its ruling into the record and denied Lyon's motion. The court first concluded Deputy Tart developed reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when he observed Lyon's vehicle turning from northbound on Main Street to eastbound on Second Avenue without an illuminated rear license plate. Additionally, the court held Deputy Tart had probable cause to initiate the stop after he followed Lyon's vehicle and verified the rear license plate light was out. The court further found Deputy Tart complied with the provisions of Iowa Code sections 804.20 and 321J.6.

A jury subsequently found Lyon guilty of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. After Lyon stipulated to the disposition of his underlying first offense for OWI, he was convicted of OWI, second offense. Lyon appealed. The court of appeals affirmed Lyon's conviction. For the reasons expressed below, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the district court.

II. Standard of Review.

We review alleged violations of constitutional rights de novo. State v. Kinkead, 570 N.W.2d 97, 99 (Iowa 1997). We make an independent evaluation of the totality of circumstances shown by the entire record. Id.

" [W]e review the defendant's challenge of the district court's interpretation of Iowa Code section 804.20 for correction of errors at law." State v. Robinson, 859 N.W.2d 464, 467 (Iowa 2015). We will affirm a district court's ruling on a motion to suppress when the court correctly applied the law and there is substantial evidence to support ...


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