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State v. Coffman

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 2, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
TERRY LEE COFFMAN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, James B. Malloy, District Associate Judge.

         A defendant appeals his conviction for operating while intoxicated, claiming the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless seizure.

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

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kevin R. Cmelik, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         This appeal presents the question whether the community-caretaking doctrine justified the initial seizure of a motorist parked on the shoulder of a rural Iowa highway. Terry Coffman challenges his conviction for operating while intoxicated (OWI), first offense. He claims the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained in violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Because the record reveals a good-faith effort by a peace officer to assist the motorist as a public servant rather than to launch a criminal investigation, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         While on late-night patrol, Story County Sheriff's Deputy Nick Hochberger noticed a car parked on the side of a rural highway outside of Slater. Deputy Hochberger testified he routinely patrols the area and was drawn to the car because it was stopped on the shoulder of the dark roadway, just after 1:00 a.m., with its brake lights engaged. Deputy Hochberger turned on the flashing red and blue lights of his patrol car as he pulled behind the parked vehicle. The deputy testified he was checking on "the welfare of the people in the vehicle." Hochberger approached the driver's window and asked the occupants: "Hi guys, everything okay tonight?" The driver, later identified as Terry Coffman, replied: "Yeah." Coffman's wife, who was in the passenger seat, piped in: "We're fine." The deputy continued the conversation: "Pulled over to the side of the road, what's going on?" Coffman told the deputy his wife was "having a neck issue" and he was "trying to do a massage or whatever."

         The deputy "detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage when the defendant spoke, " according to the findings of fact reached by the district court when ruling on Coffman's guilt. The court further found Coffman "had red and watery eyes" and admitted consuming four beers that night, the last drink within thirty minutes of the stop. The court also noted Hochberger gave Coffman three field sobriety tests, all of which he failed. The deputy invoked implied consent, but Coffman refused to provide a breath sample.

         The State charged Coffman with first-offense OWI, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2016). Coffman filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained during the seizure of his car, alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. The State argued the deputy's actions were justified under the community-caretaking exception to the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Following a hearing, the district court denied Coffman's motion to suppress. Coffman waived his right to a jury trial and stipulated to a bench trial. The court found Coffman guilty of first-offense OWI and sentenced him to two days in jail.

         Coffman now appeals and claims the community-caretaking exception did not justify the seizure of his vehicle.[1]

         II. Scope and Standard of Review

         "This controversy arises from an alleged violation of a constitutional right, making our review de novo." State v. Tague, 676 N.W.2d 197, 201 (Iowa 2004). The court "make[s] an independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances as shown by the entire ...


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