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State v. Levell

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 11, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
STACY JAMES LEVELL, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cedar County, Stuart P. Werling, Judge.

         Stacy Levell appeals from his convictions following a trial on the minutes for driving while barred and driving while license revoked.

          Zeke R. McCartney of Reynolds & Kenline, L.L.P., Dubuque, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          DANILSON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Stacy Levell appeals from his convictions following a trial on the minutes for driving while barred as a habitual offender in violation of Iowa Code sections 321.560, .561, and .556 (2016), and driving while license revoked, in violation of section 321J.21. Levell contends the district court improperly denied his motion to suppress, arguing there was no reasonable suspicion justifying his seizure. The State asserts Levell was not "seized" within the meaning of the federal and state constitutions, and even if a seizure did occur, it was supported by reasonable suspicion. We find there was no reasonable suspicion permitting seizure under the facts of this case. We therefore conclude the district court erred in denying the motion to suppress and reverse the convictions.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

         On April 1, 2016, State Trooper Robert Smith was traveling on the interstate when he noticed that a vehicle coming up behind him slowed in speed and faded back from his patrol car. Trooper Smith reduced his speed, the vehicle passed, and Trooper Smith ran a computer check on the vehicle's license plate. The check revealed the vehicle was registered to Brittney Johnson and Melissa Levell and also automatically alerted to an arrest warrant on Stacy Levell.[1] When the vehicle pulled off the interstate into a rest area, Trooper Smith followed and activated the patrol car's emergency lights as the vehicle was pulling into a parking stall. Trooper Smith parked his patrol car next to the driver's side of the vehicle, exited the patrol car, and spoke to the driver, who stated he was Stacy Levell. Trooper Smith learned Levell had a revoked license and was barred from driving.

         Levell filed a motion to suppress, arguing Trooper Smith did not have reasonable suspicion to seize the vehicle in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion was denied, and the case proceeded to a trial on the minutes. Levell was found guilty of driving while barred and driving while license revoked. Levell appeals.

         II. Standard of Review.

         Because Levell argues the motion to suppress should have been granted on constitutional grounds, our review is de novo. State v. Pals, 805 N.W.2d 767, 771 (Iowa 2011). We give weight to the district court's fact findings, especially respecting the credibility of the witnesses, but we are not bound by them. Id. On de novo review, we make "an independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances as shown by the entire record." State v. Palmer, 791 N.W.2d 840, 844 (Iowa 2010) (citations omitted). "We consider both the evidence introduced at the suppression hearing as well as the evidence introduced at trial." Id.

         III. Analysis.

         Levell asserts the motion to suppress should have been granted because he was unconstitutionally seized by Trooper Smith without reasonable suspicion. The State maintains Levell ...


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