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State v. Howard

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 11, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ROBERT A. HOWARD, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jackson County, Joel W. Barrows (suppression ruling), Mark R. Lawson (trial on the minutes), and Paul L. Macek (sentencing), Judges.

         A defendant challenges the traffic stop leading to his operating-while-intoxicated conviction. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          Joshua J. Reicks of Schoenthaler, Bartlett, Kahler & Reicks, Maquoketa, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Jean C. Pettinger and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Tires squealed. The sound came from the intersection of Platt and Niagra Streets in downtown Maquoketa, which was also the location of the police station. Officer Kody Sieverding heard the tires squeal from inside the station, rushed to the back door, and saw a Chevy Monte Carlo heading west on Platt Street. The officer took off in his squad car and stopped the Chevy in the Kwik Star parking lot, a few blocks from the station. During his investigation, Officer Sieverding detected the driver, Robert Howard, was intoxicated. On appeal, Howard contests the basis for the traffic stop that resulted in his arrest and conviction for operating while intoxicated.

         In his motion to suppress, Howard asked the district court to exclude evidence of his intoxication discovered during the stop, alleging the officer lacked either probable cause or reasonable suspicion to pull him over. Howard's motion cited both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution.

         At the suppression hearing, the State offered testimony from Officer Sieverding, who believed it was Howard who squealed his tires[1] because Howard's car was the only one traveling west on Platt Street immediately after the officer heard the noise. The officer also testified Howard's car "appeared to be going over the posted speed limit" of thirty-five miles per hour. After the officer's testimony, the court viewed a video and audio recording of the traffic stop.[2] The defense then called Howard and Howard's passenger to the stand. They both testified the driver of the car in front of them at the intersection, not Howard, was responsible for the squealing tires.

         In a ruling from the bench, the district court found all three witnesses credible. The court then reasoned:

But the Court doesn't need to make a credibility determination here to decide this case. Probable cause is a close call here and the officer arguably did not have probable cause to stop this vehicle, but I don't think that the Court necessarily needs to get there. The real question for the Court is whether or not there was reasonable suspicion to stop this vehicle.

         The court discussed the case law governing reasonable suspicion for investigatory stops and concluded "based on the stated observations of Officer Sieverding, the fact that they were close in time and place to the investigatory stop based on his own observations that he did, in fact, have reasonable· suspicion to stop this vehicle."

         After losing his motion to suppress, Howard stipulated to the minutes of evidence, including expected testimony that Howard's blood alcohol concentration was .113. The court found Howard guilty of operating while intoxicated, first offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2. He received a thirty-day jail sentence with all but two days suspended. His appeal focuses solely on the suppression ruling.

         Our review is de novo, which means we independently evaluate the entire record under the totality of circumstances. State v. Tyler, 830 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Iowa 2013). Because the district court had the chance to assess the credibility of the witnesses ...


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