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State v. Beller

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 5, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ASHTYN DANIEL BELLER, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Plymouth County, Robert J. Dull, District Associate Judge.

         The State of Iowa appeals a district court ruling granting Ashtyn Beller's motion to suppress. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellant.

          Hannah M. Vellinga of Corbett, Anderson, Corbett, Vellinga & Irvin, L.L.P., Sioux City, for appellee.

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

          MULLINS, Judge.

         The State of Iowa appeals a district court ruling granting Ashtyn Beller's motion to suppress evidence obtained in the course of a traffic stop. The State contends the district court erred in concluding a law enforcement officer impermissibly prolonged the duration of the traffic stop in violation of Beller's constitutional rights.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The following facts can be gleaned from the suppression record.[1] Officer Nathan Hoss began working for the Merrill Police Department on a part-time basis in November 2015. Hoss graduated from the police academy and became a certified peace officer in the State of Iowa in August 2017. The traffic stop at issue in this case occurred on January 13, 2017, prior to Hoss's graduation from the police academy. On that date, Hoss, while on patrol, stopped Beller's vehicle because its rear registration plate was not illuminated, a violation of Iowa law. See Iowa Code § 321.388 (2017). Hoss approached the vehicle; requested Beller's license, registration, and proof of insurance; obtained identification from the other three occupants of the vehicle; and advised Beller of the reason for the stop. Completion of these matters took little more than two minutes.

         When Hoss was conversing with the occupants of the vehicle while he was collecting their information, he noticed an "immediate smell of marijuana." Hoss testified "it was a stronger smell" and he "didn't have to try very hard to . . . recognize it or . . . identify it" as marijuana.[2]

         Hoss returned to his patrol car and began running records checks. First, Hoss verified the validity of Beller's license, which took approximately two minutes. Immediately thereafter, Hoss advised dispatch of a "possible 10-200," which in police code means a drug-interdiction investigation. Thereafter, Hoss spent roughly eight minutes running an information check on one of the vehicle's other occupants.[3] Hoss then reapproached the vehicle and had Beller accompany him to his patrol car.[4] At this point, Hoss already determined he would be searching the vehicle due to the odor of marijuana. Once in the patrol car, Hoss engaged Beller in conversation for approximately two minutes about the vehicle's destination, the lamp violation, and Beller's employment, after which Hoss questioned: "So is there any reason why your car would smell like marijuana?" Although he initially denied the presence of marijuana in the vehicle, within the next roughly two-minute exchange, Beller denied consent to search, upon which Hoss advised the scent of marijuana provided him probable cause to search. Beller then admitted to the presence of marijuana in the vehicle and advised it belonged to all four occupants.[5] Backup was requested, a search was conducted, and the marijuana was ultimately found. All four of the vehicle's occupants were taken into custody.

         Beller was charged by trial information with operating while intoxicated and possession of marijuana. Beller moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the course of the search, contending, among other things, "after the original basis for the stop had ended, [Hoss] unlawfully extended the basis of the stop" and such unlawful extension violated his constitutional rights under the state and federal constitutions. In his subsequent brief supporting his motion to suppress, Beller argued Hoss lacked reasonable suspicion to extend the stop beyond its initial purpose and such conduct violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Following a hearing, the district court entered its suppression ruling. Therein, the court opined, "it is well settled that [the] smell of marijuana alone is [an] insufficient basis for pursuing a drug investigation" and "[t]here must be other supporting factors." The court therefore concluded Hoss "lacked legal cause to detain [Beller] for purposes of a drug investigation." The court granted Beller's motion to suppress in its entirety.

         The supreme court granted the State's application for discretionary review, stayed the proceedings in the district court, and transferred the appeal to this court for resolution.

          II. ...


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