from the Iowa District Court for Boone County, James B.
Malloy (motion to suppress) and Paul G. Crawford (trial),
District Associate Judges.
Sumpter appeals her convictions for possession of
methamphetamine (second offense) and possession of marijuana
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Robert P. Ranschau,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Darrel L. Mullins, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.
VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.
police officers observed the driver of a truck engaging in a
possible drug transaction in a store parking lot. They
followed the truck and stopped it after noticing that it
lacked a license plate or working license-plate light. The
officers arrested the driver for driving with a suspended
Sumpter was one of two passengers in the vehicle. Officers
allowed her to get out of the vehicle and told her she was
free to leave the scene. Sumpter used her cell phone to call
for a ride and waited for her ride to arrive.
officers conducted an inventory search of the
vehicle. They discovered a locked bag beneath
Sumpter's seat. They later obtained a warrant to search
the contents of the bag. They discovered marijuana,
methamphetamine, and Sumpter's identification card.
the time of the inventory search, officers also discovered
"a small grocery sack that had been tied up" and
was lying on the ground "a couple feet" from the
passenger side door. The bag contained two ounces of
methamphetamine. Upon learning of these items, the officer
who arrested the driver ordered the other officers to detain
Sumpter and seize her cell phone. A warrant was obtained to
search the phone's contents. The phone contained evidence
of drug transactions and drug usage.
State charged Sumpter with possession of methamphetamine
(second offense) and possession of marijuana (second offense)
based only on the drugs found in the locked bag inside the
vehicle. Sumpter moved to suppress the evidence, arguing, in
part, that the warrantless seizure of her phone was
unconstitutional. Following a hearing, the district court
denied the motion. The court found the seizure constitutional
based on the "large quantity of methamphetamines found
just outside the door of the vehicle," the apparent drug
transaction "that took place" before the stop, and
the officers' interest in "prevent[ing] obstruction
stipulated to a bench trial on the minutes of evidence. The
district court found her guilty. On appeal, Sumpter argues
the warrantless seizure of her cell phone does not fall
within an exception to the warrant requirement.
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and
article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution protect against
unreasonable searches and seizures. Ingram, 914
N.W.2d at 799. "Warrantless searches and seizures are
per se unreasonable unless one of several carefully drawn
exceptions to the warrant requirement applies."
State v. Pettijohn, 899 N.W.2d 1, 14 (Iowa 2017).
The State argues, "The only exception relevant here is
probable cause and exigent circumstances." In the
State's view, "[d]rugs, a drug transaction, and
Sumpter's continual presence fairly shriek probable
cause." On our de novo review of the record, we agree
with the State.
probable cause finding rests on a nexus between the criminal
activity, the place to be searched, and the items to be
seized." State v. Hoskins,711 N.W.2d 720');">711 N.W.2d 720, 726
(Iowa 2006). One of the officers explained the reason for the
cell phone seizure as follows: "Because with the
circumstances before the stop and then the amount of
methamphetamine found on the ground it led me to believe
these individuals in the truck-at least somebody in the truck
was involved with the distribution of methamphetamine."
He further explained that, in his experience, cell phones
usually contain evidence of drug activity, namely
communications through "text message, phone calls,
Facebook Messenger, [and] any other messaging ap[p]." We
are persuaded the officers' observations of what they
believed to be a drug transaction and the discovery of a
recently-discarded shopping bag containing methamphetamine
afforded the officers probable cause to seize Sumpter's
cellphone. See Riley v. California,134 S.Ct. 2473,
2486 (2014) (both defendants "concede[d] that officers
could have seized and secured their cell phones to prevent
destruction of evidence while seeking a warrant); Hupp v.
Cook, No. 2:17-cv-00926, 2018 WL 3259588, at *12-13
(S.D. W.Va. July 3, 2018) (finding probable cause for seizure
of cell phone that contained video evidence of crime);
Commonwealth v. Cruzado,103 N.E.3d 732, 740 (Mass.
2018) (finding ...