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State v. Brown

Supreme Court of Iowa

January 5, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Mary Pat Gunderson, Judge, and William A. Price, District Associate Judge.

         Defendant appeals conviction for possession of marijuana.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Mary K. Conroy, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Richard J. Bennett, Special Counsel (until withdrawal), then Thomas E. Bakke and Kevin Cmelik, Assistant Attorneys General, and John Sarcone, County Attorney, and Stephanie Cox and Joseph Danielson, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

          APPEL, JUSTICE

         In this case, we are called upon to determine whether law enforcement officers executing a search warrant may search a purse belonging to a visitor who is present at the premises to be searched but who is not named in the warrant. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that the search of the purse belonging to the visitor was unlawful under article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. As a result, the district court in this case erred when it refused to suppress the results of the search in an underlying criminal proceeding against the visitor.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The facts are essentially uncontested. The officers in this case obtained a search warrant for the residence. The search warrant indicated that the police were looking for evidence of the use, sale, and distribution of narcotics, along with firearms and ammunition. The search warrant identified one man, Jeffrey Sickles, as a person to be searched. An attached police affidavit identified a woman-Ileen Sickles, the sister of the man named in the search warrant-who listed the residence as her home address.

         The officers involved in the search did not know Danielle Brown and had no facts associating Brown with the residence. In light of this lack of knowledge, it is not surprising that Brown's name does not appear anywhere in the search warrant.

         Ten SWAT team officers executed the search warrant. They found Brown and four individuals in a bedroom of the house. The individuals were immediately handcuffed. Brown was handcuffed where the officers found her. The purse in question was next to Brown when she was handcuffed. Brown along with the others was taken by officers into a living room.

         Officer John Scarlet searched the purse. Inside the purse he found a zippered pouch. Upon opening the pouch, the officer found baggies. Upon opening the baggies, the officer found a small amount of marijuana.

         After being given Miranda[1] warnings, Brown admitted she smoked methamphetamine and marijuana on a regular basis. She was arrested for possession of the marijuana found in her purse.

         Prior to trial, Brown filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search of her purse under both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution[2] and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution.[3] The district court denied the motion. Brown was found guilty of possessing marijuana after a jury trial.

         On appeal, Brown asserts the district court erred in denying the motion to suppress. For the reasons stated below, we reverse the ruling of the district court on the motion to suppress and remand the case to the district court.

          II. Standard of Review.

         Brown asserts the search of her purse violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. Our review is de novo. State v. Fleming, 790 N.W.2d 560, 563 (Iowa 2010).

         III. Discussion.

         A. Positions of the Parties.

         1. Brown. Brown first argues the search was invalid under the Fourth Amendment. She recognizes under United States Supreme Court precedent the general rule is that a valid search warrant authorizing a search includes the right to search a container found on the premises. See United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 820-21, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 2170- 71 (1982) (holding legitimate search of vehicle authorizes search of closed containers in vehicle). Yet, Brown makes the general assertion that a search warrant for the premises does not authorize the search of an individual who is not named in the warrant but merely happens to be present on the premises. See Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85, 91, 100 S.Ct. 338, 342 (1979).

         In addition to her general argument, Brown notes a number of cases emphasize that "special concerns" arise when the items to be searched belong to visitors of the premises, United States v. Giwa, 831 F.2d 538, 544 (5th Cir. 1987), as the Fourth Amendment "protects people, not places, " United States v. Micheli, 487 F.2d 429, 432 (lst Cir. 1973) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351, 88 S.Ct. 507, 511 (1967)). Because of the special concerns arising out of searches involving visitors not named in a search warrant, Brown asserts some federal and state courts have developed specific tests to determine the validity of the search.

          The first test, the possession test, requires the container be in the physical possession of the visitor for the search to be outside the warrant. Brown notes the possession test has been criticized as the protections of the Fourth Amendment are "hardly furthered by making [their] applicability hinge upon whether the individual happens to be holding or wearing his personal belongings." Micheli, 487 F.2d at 431.

         Brown identifies a second test, the relationship test, which focuses on the relationship between the person and the premises being searched. Under the relationship test, for example, the co-owner of a business has a sufficient relationship to the premises such that his briefcase could be searched. See Micheli, 487 F.2d at 432.

         A third test culled by Brown from the caselaw is a notice test. Under the notice test, police that have actual or perhaps constructive knowledge that the container belongs to a visitor may not search the container. See, e.g., Waters v. State, 924 P.2d 437, 439 (Alaska Ct. App. 1996); State v. Lambert, 710 P.2d 693, 697-98 (Kan. 1985); State v. Lohr, 263 P.3d 1287, 1291-92 (Wash.Ct.App. 2011).

         Brown recognizes there are sometimes hybrid tests. For example, in State v. Jackson, a Kansas appellate court seemed to combine the notice and relationship tests. 260 P.3d 1240, 1243-44 (Kan.Ct.App. 2011). A search is not valid, according to the Jackson court, if the officers have actual or reasonable constructive notice the property is not subject to the warrant with the exception that the search is valid if the visitor has a relationship to the premises and there is a relationship between the visitor and the illegal activities in the warrant. Id. at 1244; see also State v. Wills, 524 N.W.2d 507, 510 (Minn.Ct.App. 1994); State v. Light, 306 P.3d 534, 542 (N.M. Ct. App. 2013).

          Brown does not land on any particular test for Fourth Amendment purposes, but asserts the search in this case fails under any of the above tests. With respect to the possession test, she notes a photograph taken shortly after she was handcuffed and introduced into evidence at the suppression hearing shows the purse located right beside her. She cites a case applying the possession test that found a purse resting against the chair of a visitor was an extension of the visitor's person and could not be searched pursuant to a premises search warrant. See State v. Worth, 683 P.2d 622, 624-25 (Wash.Ct.App. 1984).

         Turning to the relationship test, Brown notes there was simply no evidence at the suppression hearing establishing that she had a "special relationship" to the premises. See United States v. Neet, 504 F.Supp. 1220, 1227-28 (D. Colo. 1981). Brown points out she was not mentioned in the warrant, officers did not know her to have any relationship with the residence, and she was not found in the same area of the house as Jeffrey Sickles, the target of the investigation.

         Finally, Brown argues the State cannot support the search based on the notice test. According to Brown, the officer knew or should have known the purse was hers as the police photograph revealed the purse was directly in front of her when she was handcuffed. Further, Officer John Scarlet testified he saw Brown's identification and "stuff" in the purse. It should have been clear the purse did not belong to a man, the target of the warrant. Thus, Brown argues, under the Fourth Amendment, the search of her purse was invalid under any of the applicable tests developed by the federal courts.

         Brown generally reprises her arguments under article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. She notes preliminarily that we have departed from Federal Fourth Amendment precedent in a number of cases interpreting the search and seizure provisions of article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. See, e.g., State v. Gaskins, 866 N.W.2d 1, 13-14 (Iowa 2015); State v. Short, 851 N.W.2d 474, 506 (Iowa 2014); State v. Ochoa, 792 N.W.2d 260, 284-91 (Iowa 2010). Brown notes our search and seizure cases under the Iowa Constitution emphasize a "strong emphasis on individual rights, " Short, 851 N.W.2d at 482, that the Iowa framers placed "considerable value on the sanctity of private property, " Ochoa, 792 N.W.2d at 274-75, and that our cases show concern about police searches of a person's "private effects, " Gaskins, 866 N.W.2d at 10.

         Brown invites us to adopt a version of the notice test under the Iowa Constitution. For support, she relies upon Fleming, where we held a warrant supported by probable cause did not authorize the search of a renter's room. 790 N.W.2d at 568-69. Fleming, Brown contends, necessarily rejected the relationship test as the renter had a special relationship to the premises. Brown further notes Fleming did not have physical possession of every item in the room at the time of the search, thus implicitly rejecting the possession test. Brown concludes, therefore, Fleming in effect adopted a notice approach to the search of property of third parties not named in a valid warrant.

         2. The State. The State responds that under the Fourth Amendment, the fact the search warrant indicated drugs and firearms were among the items subject to search is significant. The State in particular draws our attention to Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 119 S.Ct. 1297 (1999). In Houghton, a divided United States Supreme Court upheld a search of a purse found in the back seat of an automobile. Id. at 307, 119 S.Ct. at 1304. The majority concluded the driver's possession of a hypodermic needle provided probable cause for a search of the vehicle, including a purse found in the back seat of the car, which belonged to a passenger. Id. at 298, 302, 119 S.Ct. at 1299, 1301. The State argues the United States Supreme Court in Houghton essentially adopted a possession test for determining whether an object may be searched. The State asserts that although Houghton involved a motor vehicle rather than a ...

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