from the Iowa District Court for Mills County, James S.
Heckerman (motion to suppress) and Timothy O'Grady
Runyon appeals his conviction of operating while intoxicated,
second offense, contending the district court erred in
denying his motion to suppress evidence.
Johnson of Johnson Law, P.L.C., Sidney, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Genevieve Reinkoester,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.
our de novo review of the entire record, we make the
following factual findings. On July 30, 2017, at roughly 9:30
p.m., Deputy Joshua England of the Mills County Sheriff's
Department was on routine patrol when he observed three
individuals riding on two four-wheelers at a crop elevator in
Hastings. At this time, the elevator, which is private
property, was closed for business. England made contact with
these individuals and, while engaging with them, observed
Timothy Runyon drive from behind one of the elevator's
buildings in a Chevy Tracker. Runyon initially "came
towards" England, proceeding on the direct path out of
the elevator, but then diverted from that avenue,
"cut[ting] across" and leaving the area in a
different direction in between two buildings. It appeared to
England that Runyon was trying to avoid him. This
"seemed kind of odd" to England. England decided
"to stop and find out what [Runyon] was doing back in
that area" and "what he was doing at a closed
business at 9:30 at night." England conducted a traffic
stop of Runyon's vehicle, upon which England smelled a
strong odor of alcohol coming from Runyon and noticed he had
bloodshot, watery eyes. Runyon was ultimately charged by
trial information with operating while intoxicated (OWI),
moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the
traffic stop, generally arguing England lacked reasonable
suspicion to believe criminal activity was afoot. Following a
hearing, the district court concluded England conducted a
"proper investigatory stop based on reasonable suspicion
that a crime may have been occurring," given the
previous criminal activities in the area coupled with the
fact that Runyon "was behind a closed, private business,
at around 9:30 p.m., with no apparent legitimate
reason." The matter proceeded to a bench trial.
Following the State's case-in-chief, Runyon moved for
judgment of acquittal, arguing England lacked reasonable
suspicion to conduct a traffic stop.The court denied the motion.
In closing argument, defense counsel simply argued Runyon
could not be convicted because the traffic stop amounted to
an unconstitutional seizure. In its written verdict, the
court addressed the "suppression issue" and
essentially affirmed the initial ruling on Runyon's
motion to suppress. The court found Runyon guilty as
now appeals, contending the district court erred in denying
his motion to suppress evidence. He specifically argues
England lacked the reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct
an investigatory stop of his vehicle. Our review is de novo.
See State v. Smith, 919 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Iowa 2018).
"[W]e independently evaluate the totality of the
circumstances as shown by the entire record."
Id. (alteration in original) (quoting State v.
White, 887 N.W.2d 172, 175 (Iowa 2016)). In evaluating
the totality of the circumstances, we are entitled to
consideration of evidence introduced at both the suppression
hearing and trial. See State v. Tyler, 867 N.W.2d
136, 152 (Iowa 2015). "Each case must be evaluated in
light of its unique circumstances." State v.
Coffman, 914 N.W.2d 240, 244 (Iowa 2018) (quoting
State v. Kurth, 813 N.W.2d 270, 272 (Iowa 2012)). We
give deference to the district court's findings of fact,
but we are not bound by them. State v. Storm, 898
N.W.2d 140, 144 (Iowa 2017).
an automobile and detaining its occupants amounts to a
seizure within the meaning of the state and federal
constitutions. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648,
653 (1979); State v. Coleman, 890 N.W.2d 284, 288
(Iowa 2017); State v. Tyler, 830 N.W.2d 288, 292
(Iowa 2013). As such, a traffic stop must be reasonable under
the circumstances. See Whren v. United States, 517
U.S. 806, 810 (1996); State v. Kreps, 650 N.W.2d
636, 641 (Iowa 2002). "The principal function of an
investigatory stop is to resolve the ambiguity as to whether
criminal activity is afoot." State v. Vance,
790 N.W.2d 775, 780 (Iowa 2010) (quoting State v.
Richardson, 501 N.W.2d 495, 497 (Iowa 1993)). The
dispositive inquiry in this case is as follows: "would
the facts available to the officer at the moment of the
seizure . . . 'warrant a man [or woman] of reasonable
caution in the belief' that the action taken was
appropriate?" Kreps, 650 N.W.2d at 641 (quoting
State v. Heminover, 619 N.W.2d 353, 357 (Iowa
2000)); accord Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968).
our de novo review of the record, we answer that question in
the affirmative. Although we question the State's
characterization of the area as one of "high
crime," England was familiar with some criminal activity
occurring in the area in the past. At a somewhat late hour
when it was dark outside, England observed Runyon emerge from
the rear area of a closed business on private property.
Although Runyon initially proceeded in England's
direction, he changed course from the direct path out of the
property and left the area in a different direction. Under
the circumstances, we conclude England's decision to
conduct an investigatory stop of Runyon's vehicle was
reasonable, which is all that is constitutionally required.
See U.S. Const. amend. IV; Iowa Const. art. I,
affirm the denial of Runyon's motion to suppress and his
conviction of OWI, second offense.