review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Floyd County, Peter B.
Newell, District Associate Judge.
appeals from a judgment and sentence for operating a motor
vehicle with the presence of a controlled substance in his
C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Vidhya K. Reddy,
Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, Linda J. Hines, Assistant
Attorney General, Rachel Ginbey, County Attorney, and Randall
Tilton, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.
appeal, we must decide if a conviction for the crime of
operating a motor vehicle while having any amount of a
controlled substance in a person as measured by the
person's urine can be based on an initial laboratory test
that was positive for controlled substances. We conclude an
initial test is insufficient under the facts of this case to
establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We vacate the
decision of the court of appeals, reverse the judgment and
sentence of the district court, and remand the case to the
district court for dismissal of the charge.
Factual Background & Proceedings.
facts of this case resulted in the prosecution and conviction
of Jeffrey Myers for the crime broadly referred to as
operating while intoxicated (OWI). On March 12, 2016, around
1 a.m., Myers was operating a motor vehicle in Charles City.
A police officer, Cory Van Horn, observed the vehicle and
noticed the taillights were not illuminated. Officer Van Horn
stopped the vehicle. After he informed Myers of the reason
for the stop, Myers flipped a switch in the car's
interior, which illuminated the lights. Officer Van Horn also
noticed Myers was sweating profusely.
Van Horn placed Myers in the passenger seat of his patrol
car. He checked Myers's eyes and noticed that they were
watery and bloodshot and that he had difficulty keeping them
open. Additionally he noted that Myers's eyes dilated
very little upon exposure to his flashlight and that the back
of Myers's tongue was a brownish green color. Another
officer arrived at the scene to assist Officer Van Horn with
the remainder of the stop.
Van Horn administered several field sobriety tests, including
horizontal gaze nystagmus, lack of convergence, walk and
turn, one leg stand, and the modified Romberg test. The test
results prompted Officer Van Horn to ask Myers if he had
"taken" anything that night. Myers replied he had
taken cold medicine. The officers concluded Myers was under
the influence of a drug and arrested him. Myers consented to
the submission of a urine specimen for testing. An initial
test of the urine sample by the Iowa Division of Criminal
Investigation (DCI) laboratory revealed detectable levels of
amphetamines and marijuana.
March 30, 2016, the State charged Myers by trial information
with OWI in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2
(2016). The minutes of testimony included the
official toxicology report from the DCI laboratory. The
positive screen for amphetamines was 589 ng/ml, and the
positive screen for marijuana metabolites was 62
ng/ml. The report stated the positive screens
"indicate the possible presence" of substances at
levels equal to or more than the levels established in the
Iowa Administrative Code. The document concluded by
indicating a report on the positive screens "to confirm
the presence of specific drugs will follow." The minutes
of testimony, however, did not include a follow-up report.
6, Myers filed a motion to suppress. He argued his taillights
were illuminated and there was no basis to justify the stop.
At the suppression hearing, the State submitted a copy of
Officer Van Horn's dash cam video recordings. The
district court denied the motion to suppress. It concluded
the taillights were not illuminated and the stop was
case proceeded to a bench trial on the minutes of testimony.
The district court found Myers guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt. In making this finding on the record, the court
All right. Mr. Myers, basically the State has two things that
they have to prove in order to establish this offense. The
first is that you were driving or operating a motor vehicle.
. . . That element has been established. The second element
is at the time you were operating a motor vehicle, you had a
detectable level of a controlled substance in your blood
stream. They could also prove you were under the
influence of something. In this case, you did agree to
provide a urine sample. The urine sample was positive for
both marijuana metabolites and for amphetamines; and so,
those are the elements that the State has to establish, and I
believe that the State has established those elements beyond
a reasonable doubt.
entered a written finding that the minutes of testimony
established beyond a reasonable doubt that Myers committed
all the elements of OWI in violation of Iowa Code section
321J.2. It did not designate the specific subsection. The
court imposed the mandatory minimum penalties, including two
days in jail and a fine of $1250.
appealed. He claimed (1) the district court erred by denying
his motion to suppress because there was no probable cause to
support the stop and (2) the evidence was insufficient to
establish the presence of a controlled substance in his
system. Specifically, he argued the initial screen test only
found the "possible presence" of drugs not their
actual presence. He argued a confirmatory test
should have been done on his urine to verify the presence of
controlled substances. Without a confirmatory test, he claims
the evidence in the minutes of testimony was insufficient to
support a finding of guilt.
response, the State argued the results of the laboratory test
included in the minutes of testimony were sufficient to
support the conviction. Alternatively, it asserted
the lab report did measure an amount of a controlled
substance in the urine as required under the statute and,
combined with other circumstantial evidence of impairment
described in the minutes of testimony, constitutes sufficient
evidence of guilt.
transferred the case to the court of appeals. It found the
district court properly denied Myers's suppression
motion. It also found there was no legal requirement for a
confirmatory test and concluded that the detectable amounts
of controlled substances by the initial test provided
sufficient evidence to support a conviction for OWI. Myers
sought, and we granted, further review.
further review, we only address the issue of whether or not
the minutes of testimony in this case provided sufficient
evidence to support a conviction for OWI. In re Marriage
of Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 483 (Iowa 2012)
("[W]e have the discretion to review all or part of the
issues raised on appeal or in the application for further
review."). We do not address the claim of error based on
the denial of the motion to suppress.
Scope of Review.
review a claim of insufficient evidence in a bench trial just
as we do in a jury trial. State v. Weaver, 608
N.W.2d 797, 803 (Iowa 2000). "If the verdict is
supported by substantial evidence, we will affirm."
Id. We determine whether substantial evidence
supports the verdict by reviewing "all the evidence and
the record in the light most favorable to the trial
court's decision." State v. Hearn, 797
N.W.2d 577, 580 (Iowa 2011). Finally, our review of
challenges to the sufficiency of evidence is for errors at
law because "the question . . . is ...