January 11, 2017
STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
JASON MICHAEL WAGAMON, Defendant-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Washington County, Randy S.
defendant appeals the denial of his motion to suppress.
Breckenridge of Breckenridge Law, P.C., Ottumwa, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Elisabeth S. Reynoldson,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Bower,
Wagamon appeals the denial of his motion to suppress. The
charges against him are based on drugs found in his vehicle
after a traffic stop. In denying his motion, the district
court held the warrantless search of Wagamon's vehicle
was conducted pursuant to the "automobile exception,
" which has been recognized under both the Federal
Constitution and the Iowa Constitution. See Carroll v.
United States, 267 U.S. 132, 153-54 (1925); State v.
Olsen, 293 N.W.2d 216, 219 (Iowa 1980). On appeal,
Wagamon "urges that now is the time to determine if the
automobile exception is out of date and incompatible with the
protections offered by the Iowa
urges us to consider the supreme court's recent holding
in State v. Gaskins, 866 N.W.2d 1, 13-16 (Iowa
2015), as a sign of a changing tide in regard to
previously-recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement
under article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. In
Gaskins, an officer made a routine traffic stop for
an expired license plate. 866 N.W.2d at 3. As the officer
approached the vehicle, he was able to smell a strong odor of
burnt marijuana, and the driver, Gaskins, ultimately showed
the officer a partially-smoked marijuana blunt he had in the
ashtray. Id. Gaskings was immediately arrested, and
the officer secured him and his passenger inside the police
car. Id. Once a second officer arrived to assist on
the scene, the officers searched the vehicle for additional
drugs. Id. They found a locked safe in the vehicle
and then located the key to the lock on the keyring in the
ignition. Id. The officers opened the safe with the
key without getting a warrant, finding a loaded handgun,
marijuana, and other drug paraphernalia. Id. at 3-4.
Gaskins was charged, he filed a motion to suppress the items
found in the safe, arguing the officers had to get a warrant
to search the safe because there had been no threat to the
officers' safety or of possible destruction of the items
locked in the safe. Id. at 4. The State responded
the warrantless search was properly conducted as an exception
to the warrant requirement-namely a search incident to arrest
(SITA). Id. The district court denied the motion to
suppress, and Gaskins was convicted of all charges following
a bench trial on the minutes of testimony. Id. at
4-5. He appealed, and our supreme court retained the case.
Id. at 5.
reaching its decision, our supreme court considered federal
precedent, noting, as the Supreme Court has, "that
police had come to view vehicle searches as an entitlement,
not an exception." Id. at 10 (citing
Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 336-37 (2009)
("When asked at the suppression hearing why the search
[incident to arrest] was conducted, Officer Griffith
responded: 'Because the law says we can do
it.'")). Our supreme court ultimately reversed the
denial of Gaskin's motion to suppress, limiting the SITA
exception under the Iowa Constitution, holding:
We approve Gant's "reaching distance"
rationale as an appropriate limitation on the scope of
searches incident to arrest under article I, section 8 of the
Iowa Constitution because that limitation is faithful to the
underlying justifications for warrantless searches incident
to arrest. However, we decline to adopt Gant's
alternative evidence-gathering rationale for warrantless
searches incident to arrest under the Iowa Constitution
because it would permit the SITA exception to swallow
completely the fundamental textual rule in article I, section
8 that searches and seizures should be supported by a
warrant. In other words, "use of a [SITA] rationale to
sanction a warrantless search that has nothing to do with its
underlying justification-preventing the arrestee from gaining
access to weapons or evidence-is an anomaly." Although
the evidence-gathering rationale announced in Gant
limits the propriety of a warrantless search of an automobile
and containers found within it incident to arrest to those
instances when it is reasonable to believe the vehicle
contains evidence of the crime of arrest, construing the
exception this broadly "would serve no purpose except to
provide a police entitlement."
Id. at 13 (alteration in original) (citations
the majority in Gaskins did not discuss the
automobile exception, Chief Justice Cady, in a special
concurrence joined by one other justice, expressed
uncertainty regarding the future need for it:
Additionally, a recognized exception to the warrant
requirement cannot live beyond the life of the justification
responsible for its existence. The automobile exception to
the warrant requirement was created by the United States
Supreme Court ninety years ago during Prohibition. The
justification for the warrantless search was grounded in the
practical problems for police of obtaining a search warrant
presented by the mobility of a vehicle. . . . While a vehicle
remains mobile, the Iowa court system is now the first court
system in the nation to be totally electronic for all users
at all levels. . . .
An automatic exception to the warrant requirement,
particularly one based on exigency, must account for the new
world of technology, and must not continue to exist simply
because it existed in the past.
Id. at 17 (Cady, C.J., specially concurring)
urges that the future is now; he maintains the automobile
exception has outlived its efficacy and asks us to reexamine
it. Although members of our supreme court may be receptive to
Wagamon's argument, we are not at liberty to overturn
precedent. See State v. Hastings, 466 N.W.2d 697,
700 (Iowa 1990) ("We are not at liberty to overturn Iowa
Supreme Court precedent."); see also State v.
Miller, 841 N.W.2d 583, 584 n.1 (Iowa 2014)
("Generally, it is the role of the supreme court to
decide if case precedent should no longer be
affirm the district court's denial of Wagamon's
motion to suppress.
 We note that even though Wagamon is
urging the reconsideration of precedent under the Iowa
Constitution, his "routing statement" states the
case should be transferred to the Iowa Court of Appeals
rather than retained by the Iowa Supreme Court. See
Iowa Rs. App. P. 6.903(2)(d) (requiring the appellant's
brief to include a routing statement indicating whether the
case should be retained by the supreme court), 6.1101
(providing the criteria for when the supreme court
"shall ordinarily retain" cases, including
"[c]ases presenting substantial questions of enunciating
or changing legal principles").
 He was convicted of possession of
methamphetamine and possession of marijuana, both as an
 Justice Appel also filed a special
concurrence, joined by two other justices, asserting:
The interesting questions regarding the validity of
the automobile exception and its scope should not be resolved
by a declaration that the Iowa Constitution is worded
similarly to the Federal Constitution and that federal law
must be followed, not with a declaration that we must follow
federal law to establish uniformity, and not with a bulk
citation of caselaw that supports the automobile exception. .
. . It is our constitutional obligation, however, to do the
nitty-gritty work of examining the available authorities and
precedents-both state and federal-and determining which
approach makes the most sense under article I, section 8 of
the Iowa Constitution. In light of the court's
disposition, that analysis will await another day.
Gaskins, 866 N.W.2d at 38 (Appel, J.,