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State v. Scheffert

Supreme Court of Iowa

November 17, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL SCHEFFERT, Appellant.

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Joseph M. Moothart (motion to suppress) and Nathan A. Callahan (trial), District Associate Judges.

         The State seeks further review of a court of appeals decision suppressing the State's evidence.

          Thomas J. Viner of Viner Law Firm, P.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorney General, Brian Williams, County Attorney, and Molly Tomsha, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

          WIGGINS, JUSTICE.

         This appeal involves a decision by the district court denying a motorist's motion to suppress evidence obtained after an officer stopped the motorist's vehicle for being on a county access road after hours. At trial, the district court convicted the motorist of possession of a controlled substance in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(5) (2015). The motorist appealed, arguing the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress. We transferred the case to the court of appeals, which reversed the district court's denial of the motorist's motion to suppress. The State filed an application for further review.

         On further review, we disagree with the court of appeal's reasoning, but we still find the officer did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop the motorist's vehicle when it was on a county access road after hours. We therefore vacate the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the judgment of the district court, and remand the case for a new trial.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         On May 30, 2015, at approximately 12:37 a.m., Deputy Tim Peterson with the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Department observed a vehicle on Beaver Valley Road in the Falls Access area. Falls Access is a county conservation property open to the public for hunting and fishing. Beaver Valley Road is a gravel road maintained by the county conservation board. Deputy Peterson stopped the vehicle because he believed Michael Scheffert, the driver, was committing a crime by being in Falls Access after 10:30 p.m. Deputy Matthew Harris, who assisted Deputy Peterson with the stop, testified the hours in which the public may be in Falls Access is from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

         After stopping Scheffert's vehicle, Deputy Peterson obtained Scheffert's consent to search the vehicle. During the search, Deputy Peterson found a marijuana pipe with residue and a prescription pill bottle that had a clear plastic bag containing marijuana. Scheffert told Deputy Peterson the marijuana belonged to him.

         The State charged Scheffert with possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), second offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(5). Scheffert moved to suppress the evidence seized from the vehicle, contending the stop and search violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution.

         At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Scheffert argued Deputy Peterson lacked either probable cause or reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. The thrust of Scheffert's argument at the hearing was that officials should have posted a sign displaying the park's hours in order to make his presence in Falls Access after hours illegal. Deputy Harris testified there had been signage to identify Falls Access at the intersection of Beaver Valley Road and North Union Road in the past, but it never had park hours posted on it. Deputy Harris did not recall whether there was a sign posted on May 30, the night of the stop. According to his conversation with a Black Hawk County conservation officer, there was not a sign posted on the day of the hearing on the motion to suppress. There was no other evidence of signs regarding the Beaver Valley Road in the Falls Access area.

         The State argued Deputy Peterson had probable cause to initiate a traffic stop because Scheffert was in a county park after hours. The State relied on Deputy Harris's testimony that the park closes at 10:30 p.m. The State also relied on sections 461A.46 and 350.5[1] of the Iowa Code to establish Deputy Peterson had probable cause to stop Scheffert. The State contended,

The signage on the night in question is irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether or not the sign was posted that night, and [the State was] not aware of any authority that requires a sign to be posted. The fact is that [Scheffert] was there after hours.

         The district court denied Scheffert's motion to suppress. After a trial on the minutes of testimony, the district court convicted Scheffert of possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), second offense. Scheffert appealed, arguing the district court erred in failing to suppress the evidence. We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals reversed the denial of Scheffert's motion to suppress. The State sought further review, which we granted.

         II. Issue.

         We consider whether the stop of Scheffert's vehicle was contrary to the protections of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or ...


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