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State v. Baker

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 29, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
JUSTIN ANDRE BAKER, Appellant.

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Joel A. Dalrymple and George L. Stigler, Judges.

         A defendant seeks further review of a court of appeals decision affirming his convictions and sentences.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender (until withdrawal), and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, Brian J. Williams, County Attorney, and Jeremy Westendorf, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

          WIGGINS, Justice.

         A defendant appeals his convictions following judgment and sentence for the charges of driving while license barred, possession of marijuana, possession with intent to deliver marijuana, and failure to affix a drug tax stamp. He first argues the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because the police seized him in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 to the Iowa Constitution. Next, he argues the warrant used to search his residence lacked sufficient probable cause. He also argues his guilty pleas for driving while license barred and possession of marijuana were involuntary because trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress evidence before he entered his pleas. Lastly, he argues the district court abused its discretion when it imposed the sentence.

         On appeal, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals and the judgment of the district court. We find the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop of Baker's vehicle; therefore, the court was not required to suppress the evidence obtained from the stop. Because of this finding, we also find counsel was not ineffective in failing to file a motion to suppress prior to Baker's guilty pleas for driving while license barred and possession of marijuana. We further find the district court had a substantial basis for determining probable cause existed to support the warrant the police executed on 702 Ricker Street in Waterloo, Iowa. Therefore, it was not required to suppress the evidence obtained from the search of the residence. Lastly, we will let the court of appeals decision that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing Baker's sentence stand as the final decision of this court.

         I. Background Facts.

         In August 2015, a Nevada State Trooper informed Officer Michael Girsch of the Waterloo Police Department that officers from the State of Nevada stopped a vehicle occupied by three Waterloo residents and the vehicle contained a large distributional quantity of marijuana and marijuana edibles. The Nevada officers placed all three individuals under arrest. The defendant, Justin Baker, was one of them.

         In April 2016, while Girsch was conducting undercover surveillance in an unrelated investigation, he spotted Baker's vehicle near the 700 block of Ricker Street. Girsch said he believed Baker identified him as an officer and drove away. Girsch said, "[I]t appeared once he saw me sitting there, it appeared as though it had alerted him or scared him for some reason because it was my belief that his intention was to go to 702 Ricker Street." Girsch moved to a different position and continued to watch Baker, who circled back around and pulled into the driveway of 702 Ricker Street.

         On April 18, Black Hawk County Sheriff Officer Matthew Isley received an anonymous phone call from someone who told Isley he or she had been at 702 Ricker Street in the past few days and had seen there was a distributional amount of marijuana at the residence. The anonymous tipster told Isley that Baker and Baker's niece, Shana Caldwell, were living at the residence and that Baker and Caldwell told the tipster they had recently returned to town with a shipment of marijuana. The tipster told Isley he or she suspected Baker and Caldwell were dealing drugs.

         The same day, Isley informed Girsch of the anonymous call Isley received because both officers were working on the Tri-County Drug Enforcement Task Force. Based on the anonymous tip and the information they received from the Nevada State Trooper, Isley and Girsch decided to conduct surveillance on Baker and Caldwell at their 702 Ricker Street residence.

         While conducting surveillance, the officers saw Baker enter the house and then leave in his vehicle twenty minutes later. Both officers followed Baker. Girsch observed Baker park in an alley and speak with one or two individuals for only thirty seconds. Isley saw a male stick his hand in the passenger side of Baker's vehicle, immediately pull his hand back out, and then put his hand into his pocket. Isley never saw any drugs but identified this as a hand-to-hand drug transaction. Based on this, the officers directed Sergeant Steven Bose of the Waterloo Police Department to initiate a traffic stop on Baker's vehicle.

         Bose activated his emergency lights while behind Baker's vehicle. Baker took an inordinate amount of time to roll to a stop and threw a small bag of marijuana out the window of his vehicle. Bose confirmed Baker was driving while his license was suspended. Bose recovered the marijuana then placed Baker under arrest. Baker had $200 in twenty-dollar bills on his person. Due to Baker's slow roll to a stop, officers were concerned Baker had called or texted other people who were also involved in selling narcotics. The officers believed others might have been destroying evidence at 702 Ricker Street and went to the residence to secure the premises.

         Caldwell opened the door of her home when officers arrived. She told them they could not enter without a warrant. The officers entered the residence anyway. Inside, officers found narcotics and items consistent with the sale of narcotics. After the traffic stop, Isley and Girsch prepared a warrant application for a search of 702 Ricker Street, which the court granted. The officers executed the warrant the same day. Upon reentering the residence, officers seized a distributional amount of marijuana.

         II. Proceedings.

         The State charged Baker with five counts. On May 17, in count I, the State charged him with driving while license barred in violation of Iowa Code sections 321.555 and 321.561 (2016), an aggravated misdemeanor. In count II, the State charged him with possession of marijuana, second offense, as a serious misdemeanor in violation of section 124.401(5). On May 18, the State charged Baker with two more counts. In count I, the State charged him with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a class "D" felony, in violation of section 124.401(1)(d). In count II, the State charged him with a drug tax stamp violation, a class "D" felony, in violation of section 453B.12. On November 2, the State charged Baker with another count of driving while license barred for acts alleged to have occurred on September 28.

         Baker filed a motion to suppress evidence.[1] In the motion, he asserted the officers lacked probable cause to execute the traffic stop on April 18 and any evidence stemming from the stop was fruit of the poisonous tree. He also asserted the officers' warrantless entry into 702 Ricker Street violated his constitutional rights. Therefore, he argued, because the traffic stop and warrantless entry provided the basis for the warrant that was ultimately granted and executed, the evidence obtained by the warrant was also tainted.

         The court granted Baker's motion regarding the warrantless search of 702 Ricker Street, finding exigent circumstances did not support the protective sweep. The court denied Baker's motion on the other two issues. It found the stop of Baker's vehicle was supported by reasonable suspicion based on the information of Baker's arrest in Nevada, the anonymous tip, and Isley's observation of what he believed to be a narcotics transaction. On the search-by-warrant challenge, the court found that officers made the decision to obtain a warrant prior to their initial entry into 702 Ricker Street. The court determined that without considering facts obtained during the illegal entry and search, probable cause still existed to grant the warrant.

         On January 24, 2017, a jury trial began for the charges of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and violation of a drug tax stamp. The jury found Baker guilty of both charges. Baker pled guilty to the two misdemeanor charges of driving while license barred and the one misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana.

         The court sentenced Baker on all five charges. The court sentenced Baker to five years imprisonment for the possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and five years for the drug tax stamp violation. For the misdemeanor charges, the court sentenced Baker to prison for one year for each count. The court ordered Baker to serve his sentences concurrently.

         Baker appealed. The court of appeals upheld his convictions and sentences. Baker filed an application for further review, which we granted.

         III. Issues.

         We consider four issues. First, whether the district court erred in denying Baker's motion to suppress evidence because the investigatory stop of Baker was not supported by reasonable suspicion. Second, whether the district court erred in denying Baker's motion to suppress evidence obtained at 702 Ricker Street because probable cause did not exist to support the issuance of the warrant. Third, whether Baker's counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress evidence before Baker pled guilty to driving while license barred and possession of marijuana. Fourth, whether the district court abused its discretion when it sentenced Baker.

         "On further review, we have the discretion to review all or some of the issues raised on appeal or in the application for further review." State v. Clay, 824 N.W.2d 488, 494 (Iowa 2012). In exercising our discretion, we will not address the sentencing issue and let the court of appeals decision stand as the final decision of this court as to whether the district court abused its discretion when it sentenced Baker.

         IV. Whether the District Court Erred in Denying Baker's Motions to Suppress Evidence.

         Baker argues the district court erred in denying his motions to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution because officers obtained evidence from an illegal stop of his vehicle and from an illegal search of 702 Ricker Street.

         A. Standard of Review.

Our review of challenges to a ruling on the merits of a motion to suppress is de novo because such claims implicate constitutional issues. State v. Ortiz, 766 N.W.2d 244, 249 (Iowa 2009). "We make an 'independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances as shown by the entire record.'" State v. Scheffert, 910 N.W.2d 577, 581 (Iowa 2018) (quoting State v. Tague, 676 N.W.2d 197, 201 (Iowa 2004)). "We give ...


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