from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Nicholas Scott,
District Associate Judge.
defendant appeals his conviction for possession of marijuana,
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Mary K. Conroy,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kelli A. Huser, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Tabor, P.J., McDonald, J., and Carr, S.J.
Akers appeals his conviction for possession of marijuana,
second offense. He argues the district court should have
suppressed the marijuana because the police officer did not
have probable cause to stop his car. After carefully
reviewing the video-recording of the traffic stop, we agree
the officer did not have probable cause to believe Akers was
violating the rear-lighting statute at the time the officer
signaled him to stop. Accordingly, we reverse the suppression
Rapids police officer Nathan Baughan was part of a
"selective enforcement project" assigned to
"monitor traffic flow" on the southeast side of the
city around 10:45 p.m. when he saw a green 1973 Buick LeSabre
drive south at the 100 block of Fifteenth Street, the same
direction the marked squad car was facing. Officer Baughan
testified neither the Buick's driver nor the passenger
was wearing a safety belt. The officer also testified that as
he followed the Buick, he noticed "it had a taillight
out." The officer further testified that when the Buick
stopped at the stop sign at Fifteenth Street and Second
Avenue he could see the driver's side brake light
"was out as well."
officer caught up with the Buick at the intersection of
Fifteenth Street and Seventh Avenue and activated his lights
and sirens, signaling the driver to stop. According to the
officer, the Buick travelled about two-and-a-half blocks
before pulling over into "a proper parking spot."
As the driver parked the car, he also honked his horn. The
officer testified that the driver, Akers, and his passenger
"then exited the vehicle and started towards the address
where it later turned out that the driver actually
lived." But the video from the officer's dashboard
camera does not show Akers moving away; rather it shows Akers
walking toward the back of his Buick to meet the officer
where they appear to discuss the rear lamps.Officer Baughan
then ordered Akers back to the driver's seat and
expressed his displeasure concerning Akers's decision to
sound his horn.
Baughan testified that when he "engaged the driver in
conversation" he could "plainly" smell fresh
marijuana coming from either Akers or the car. Officer
Baughan also testified Akers "had marijuana on his
person" and "actually turned that over to me"
by pulling it from his pocket. But the minutes of testimony
indicate the officer handcuffed Akers and took the marijuana
from his pocket. The marijuana weighed approximately eight
grams. Akers told Officer Baughan he had just purchased the
marijuana and planned to smoke it.
Baughan testified Akers asked why he was stopped, and Officer
Baughan "informed him both his taillight and his brake
light and his seatbelt." Officer Baughan recalled Akers
saying he didn't think he needed to wear his seatbelt
because "his car was a 1973." The officer testified
he "corrected" Akers, saying every vehicle
manufactured after 1970 must have a shoulder and lap belt.
Defense counsel cross-examined the officer about the source
of his belief concerning the safety belt guidelines and
directed the officer to Iowa Code section 321.445(1) (2016).
The officer acknowledged on cross-examination he was not able
to determine if the Buick was equipped with a shoulder
harness until he "actually did the inspection of the
suppression hearing, defense counsel submitted a video of the
traffic stop. Defense counsel argued:
Upon review of that video, I believe that it's clear that
there were no lights out on this vehicle. I will leave that
for the Court to review the video or make that determination
factually, but I don't believe the video evidence
supports the testimony of Officer Baughan in regards to
lights being out on this particular vehicle.
the seatbelt issue, counsel argued the officer was operating
under a ...