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State v. Hamilton

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 8, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LEVI LEONARD HAMILTON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, John D. Ackerman, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his convictions for eluding in the first degree and operating while intoxicated.

          Rees Conrad Douglas, Sioux City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli Huser, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         At his bench trial for eluding in the first degree and operating while intoxicated, Levi Hamilton admitted to not stopping his Chevy Malibu when police officers signaled him to do so in the early morning hours of March 4, 2016. He also admitted to smoking marijuana "every day usually." But he testified March 4 was the one day he had abstained. The district court did not credit Hamilton's denial and found him guilty on both counts. On appeal, Hamilton claims the State offered insufficient evidence he was under the influence of marijuana. Because the record contains proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Hamilton violated Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2016), we affirm his convictions.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Around two in the morning, undercover officers saw Hamilton's Malibu park three feet from the curb outside a Sioux City house they suspected of hosting illicit drug activity. The Malibu's four occupants went inside the house for about fifteen minutes. The undercover officers, driving an unmarked car, followed the Malibu when it pulled away. Officer Dan Wagner recalled Hamilton driving the Malibu southbound "completely in what would be considered the oncoming vehicle's position, within a foot of the vehicles that were parked northbound. . . . It nearly looked like he was going to hit them."

         When a uniformed officer in a marked car showed up and activated its overhead lights and sirens, Hamilton sped away, leading the police on a highspeed chase through the residential neighborhood. Officers estimated Hamilton's speed reached sixty-five to seventy miles per hour in a thirty mile-per-hour zone. Hamilton abandoned the car in the back of an apartment complex and fled on foot. Officers pursued with the help of a K-9 unit. When officers found Hamilton, they noticed he was unsteady on his feet, "he was stumbling a bit, " and his eyes were red. Sioux City Officer Mike Simoni smelled the "very strong" odor of burnt marijuana coming from Hamilton. Officer Simoni transported Hamilton to the Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP) office in the Woodbury County jail, where the officer detected the smell of burnt marijuana coming from Hamilton's breath as they were carrying on a conversation. Officer Simoni, who had training as a drug recognition expert, testified Hamilton did not cooperate with tests designed to measure impairment. Hamilton also refused to provide a urine sample.

         The State charged Hamilton with eluding in the first degree, [1] a class "D" felony, in violation of Iowa Code section 321.279(3), as an habitual offender, and operating while intoxicated, [2] a serious misdemeanor, in violation of section 321J.2. Hamilton waived a jury and appeared before the district court for trial in August 2016. After hearing testimony from several police officers, as well as Hamilton himself, the district court found Hamilton guilty on both counts. Hamilton now challenges those convictions.

         II. Scope and Standard of Review

         We review challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence for correction of legal error. See State v. Hansen, 750 N.W.2d 111, 112 (Iowa 2008). We view the record in the light most favorable to the State, and we make all legitimate inferences and presumptions that may reasonably be inferred from the evidence. See State v. Quinn, 691 N.W.2d 403, 407 (Iowa 2005). We will uphold the district court's rulings as long as substantial evidence supports them. See State v. Howse, 875 N.W.2d 684, 688 (Iowa 2016). "Evidence is substantial if it would convince a rational trier of fact the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Hansen, 750 N.W.2d at 112.

         III. ...


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