from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Nathan A.
Callahan, District Associate Judge.
defendant appeals his conviction asserting the district court
erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence.
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Mary K. Conroy,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.
Stewart was found guilty, following a bench trial on the
minutes of evidence, of possession of a controlled substance,
marijuana. On appeal, he claims the district court erred in
denying his motion to suppress evidence discovered during the
warrantless search of the vehicle he was driving because the
police officer lacked probable cause. Because we agree with
the district court that the automobile exception applies to
this set of facts, we affirm the district court's denial
of Stewart's motion to suppress.
April 7, 2016, a Black Hawk County Sheriff's Deputy
pulled over Stewart for a broken taillight. Stewart was
driving his girlfriend's vehicle. As the deputy
approached the vehicle, Stewart rolled down the driver's
side window, and the deputy smelled a "very strong"
odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. During the
deputy's twelve years with the Sheriff's office, he
had extensive experience detecting the smell of marijuana and
estimated he encountered the smell almost daily. The deputy
also noticed Stewart had bloodshot and watery eyes. The
deputy then asked Stewart about the odor, and Stewart
admitted to smoking marijuana earlier but not while he was in
the vehicle. The deputy called for backup; while one officer
stood with Stewart between the stopped vehicle and the
deputy's vehicle, another sheriff's deputy approached
the passenger window of the stopped vehicle and detected a
"faint" odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle.
deputy performed a pat-down search of Stewart, but he did not
locate anything illegal. Stewart maintained he did not smoke
in the vehicle, but the deputy performed a search of the
vehicle. The deputy believed he located a marijuana cigarette
or blunt-approximately two to three inches long-and possibly
some used marijuana cigarettes, or "roaches, " in
the center console area. The backup deputy smelled the
cigarette or blunt and also believed it contained marijuana.
filed a motion to suppress the marijuana found during the
vehicle search. After a hearing, the district court denied
the motion. Stewart waived his right to a jury trial, and
stipulated to the minutes of evidence. The court found
Stewart guilty and sentenced him to 180 days in jail-all but
thirty days suspended-and placed him on probation. He
appeals, contesting the district court's denial of his
motion to suppress.
searches are per se unreasonable unless they fall within the
carefully drawn exceptions to the warrant requirement.
State v. Gaskins, 866 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Iowa
2015). One of those exceptions is probable cause
coupled with exigent circumstances, which is termed the
automobile exception when applied to motor vehicles.
Storm, 898 N.W.2d at 145. Stewart contends the
marijuana smell, noticed by both deputies, emanating from his
vehicle does not provide probable cause to search the vehicle
because it was possible the odor came from another
source-Stewart's clothing from smoking earlier. Moreover,
Stewart asserts the deputy lacked probable cause because the
deputy did not find any marijuana on him during the pat-down
search and because he cooperated by admitting he had smoked
addressing the smell of marijuana supporting a vehicle
search, our supreme court has held "a trained
officer's detection of a sufficiently distinctive odor,
by itself or when accompanied by other facts, may establish
probable cause." State v. Watts, 801 N.W.2d
845, 854 (Iowa 2011); accord State v. Eubanks, 355
N.W.2d 57, 59 (Iowa 1984) (holding probable cause existed
after patrolman smelled marijuana drifting from the car when
defendant was seated behind the steering wheel). Therefore,
despite Stewart's argument that the deputy lacked
probable cause because he had no reason to think Stewart was
lying and the odor could have come from Stewart's
clothing, the deputy had probable cause to search the
vehicle. The deputy testified that Stewart had bloodshot,
watery eyes and admitted to smoking marijuana. In addition,
the deputy testified that he detected the odor of marijuana
emanating from Stewart's vehicle, which was sufficient,
by itself, to provide the probable cause to search the