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State v. Frost

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
JERALD DAVID FROST, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Russell G. Keast (motion to suppress), Nicholas L. Scott (stipulated trial), and Casey D. Jones (sentencing), District Associate Judges.

         A defendant appeals his conviction for possession of methamphetamine.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Stephan J. Japuntich, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Zachary C. Miller, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Jerald Frost appeals his conviction for possession of methamphetamine, claiming police violated his constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure by finding contraband inside a closed container taken from Frost's pocket during a warrantless search. Because police exceeded the scope of Frost's consent, we reverse the suppression ruling and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Around 2 a.m., Jennifer Roberts, a sergeant with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, overheard dispatch refer to a "suspicious vehicle"-the occupants of a white van entered a residence where police had been frequently called to deal with "stolen vehicles, narcotics and wanted persons." According to dispatch, the suspects "carried a bunch of stuff out, apparently getting back into the van." A patrol unit tracked the van for several blocks, trying to establish probable cause to investigate, but found no valid reason for a traffic stop.

         Sergeant Roberts saw the van turn into a Walgreens parking lot and decided to follow. The van parked in a designated space. Roberts, who was in uniform and driving a marked squad car, pulled in behind and slightly to the side of the van so as to not block it in. As Roberts left her vehicle, two other police cars, including an unmarked sedan driven by Officer Christopher Brand, converged on the Walgreens lot. A total of three police vehicles and five police officers joined the investigation. None of the police vehicles activated emergency lights or sirens.

         Roberts approached the driver, who had stepped out of the van, and asked if she could speak with him. Roberts did not direct any questions to the van's two passengers. The driver agreed to speak to the officer and identified himself as Jerald Frost. Roberts asked to see his driver's license to verify his identity. As Roberts returned Frost's license, Officer Brand walked up. Both Roberts and Brand carried firearms and tasers but did not draw them. Roberts told Frost she had received a report of the van's occupants removing items from a residence associated with methamphetamine use and one of the van's passengers was a known methamphetamine user. Roberts then asked Frost "if he had anything illegal on him." Frost denied possessing anything illegal.

         Roberts thanked Frost for speaking with the officers, told him he was free to go, but then asked if Officer Brand could "pat him down". Frost raised his arms in response. Brand also asked permission before beginning the patdown. Frost verbally consented to Brand's request. During the patdown, Brand felt and removed two aluminum cylinders with screw lids from Frost's front pants pocket. Brand opened both cylinders without seeking Frost's permission. One cylinder contained methamphetamine.

         The State charged Frost with possession of methamphetamine, in violation of Iowa Code section 124.401(5) (2017). Frost filed a motion to suppress evidence seized during the warrantless search. The motion cited both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. The district court held a suppression hearing where the State called Roberts and Brand as the only witnesses. The court denied the motion to suppress, concluding Frost was not seized, consented to the search, and by raising his hands, indicated he knew the extent of the search request. Frost waived his right to a jury trial and proceeded to a trial on the minutes of evidence. The district court found Frost guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Frost now appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review issues involving constitutional claims de novo. State v. Pals, 805 N.W.2d 767, 771 (Iowa 2011). When reviewing the reasonableness of a search, we look to the entire record in light of the unique circumstances of each case. Id. We defer to the district court's fact findings but we are not bound by those findings. State v. Turner, 630 N.W.2d 601, 606 (Iowa 2001).

         Both the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 8 of the Iowa constitution protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. State v. Ingram, 914 N.W.2d 794, 799 (Iowa 2018) (highlighting "the potential for an independent state court interpretation under the state constitution that is more protective of individual rights"). When a defendant raises both federal and state constitutional claims, we may choose to consider either claim first, or both claims simultaneously. State v. Ochoa, 792 N.W.2d 260, 267 (Iowa 2010).

         III. Discussion

         On appeal, Frost presents two separate suppression claims based on state and federal constitutional provisions. First, Frost contends he was impermissibly seized by officers in the Walgreens parking lot. Second, Frost challenges the proof of ...

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