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State v. Swenson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MICHELLE M. SWENSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, James B. Malloy, District Associate Judge.

         Michelle Swenson appeals a district court verdict and sentence for possession of methamphetamine, second offense.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Vidhya K. Reddy, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

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

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and McDonald, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, JUDGE.

         Michelle Swenson appeals a district court verdict and sentence for possession of methamphetamine, second offense. She argues the court should have granted her motion to suppress evidence seized in a warrantless search of her purse.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         An Ames police officer saw a vehicle he recognized pull into the parking lot of a convenience store. After running the license plate number, he suspected the driver was an individual he had encountered in the past who was not authorized to drive. He drove into the parking lot, approached the vehicle, recognized the driver, and told him he was "not supposed to be driving." He instructed the driver to step out of the vehicle. After noticing a pocket knife, the officer patted him down and discovered a methamphetamine pipe in his pocket. The driver was arrested.

         Michelle Swenson was a passenger in the vehicle. The officer advised her to step out so that he could search the vehicle. Swenson did so but left her purse on the passenger seat. The officer searched the purse and found drug paraphernalia and a "small baggy containing methamphetamine."

         The State charged Swenson with possession of methamphetamine, second offense. See Iowa Code § 124.401(5) (2017). Swenson moved to suppress the evidence gained in the search of her purse, arguing in part that the officer lacked probable cause to conduct the search. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion. The court reasoned that "[t]he search of defendant's purse was valid under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement." Swenson appealed.

         II. Suppression Ruling

         The Iowa Supreme Court recently articulated the parameters of the automobile exception:

The Supreme Court has recognized a "specifically established and well-delineated" exception to the warrant requirement for searches of automobiles and their contents. "[T]his exception is applicable when probable cause and exigent circumstances exist at the time the car is stopped by police." The inherent mobility of ...

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