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State v. Burks

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 6, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
HERNANDIS CORTEZ BURKS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Odell McGhee II, District Associate Judge.

         Hernandis Cortez Burks appeals from the judgment and sentence entered on his conviction for possession of a controlled substance. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

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

          DANILSON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Hernandis Cortez Burks appeals from the judgment and sentence entered on his conviction for possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(5) (2016). Burks maintains the district court should have granted his motion to suppress and failed to provide sufficient reasons for the sentence imposed. Because we find the motion to suppress was properly denied, and the court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sentence, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

         On May 26, 2016, Burks was riding as a passenger in a vehicle stopped by Des Moines Police Officers Brandon Holtan and Shawn Morgan. Upon speaking with the driver and Burks, the officers observed an open bottle of an alcoholic beverage on the front passenger floorboard. They asked the driver and Burks to step out of the vehicle. Officer Morgan stated that while reaching for the bottle, he smelled marijuana and saw a small burnt marijuana cigarette on the cup-holder ashtray. Officer Morgan then found a cigar package containing raw marijuana between the front driver seat and front passenger seat. Burks admitted the marijuana belonged to him. Burks was charged by trial information with possession of a controlled substance.

         Burks filed a motion to suppress, arguing the evidence was obtained through an unlawful search of the vehicle. At the suppression hearing, the State argued Burks did not have standing to challenge the search of the vehicle because, as a passenger, he had no legitimate expectation of privacy. The State also asserted exceptions applied permitting the lawful search of the vehicle. The district court determined, "Looking at the totality of the circumstance[s], the court finds that law enforcement legally stopped the vehicle and legally searched the inside of the vehicle for contraband since they saw an open container in plain view. The exigen[cy] was sufficient for a seizure of the vehicle, . . . ." The court dismissed the motion to suppress as it related to evidence found in the search of the vehicle.

         Burks waived his right to a jury trial, and after a trial on the minutes of evidence, the district court found Burks guilty of possession of a controlled substance. Burks was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for one hundred and eighty days, which was suspended, and Burks was placed on probation for one year.[1] Burks now appeals.

         II. Standard of Review.

         We review a claim the trial court improperly denied a motion to suppress on constitutional grounds de novo. State v. Pals, 805 N.W.2d 767, 771 (Iowa 2011). "This review requires 'an independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances as shown by the entire record.'" Id. (quoting State v. Turner, 630 N.W.2d 601, 606 (Iowa 2001)). "We give deference to the district court's fact findings due to its opportunity to assess the credibility of witnesses, but we are not bound by those findings." State v. Tyler, 867 N.W.2d 136, 153 (Iowa 2015) (citations omitted).

         We review the challenge to the district court's sentencing determination for an abuse of discretion. State v. ...


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