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State v. Haas

Supreme Court of Iowa

June 28, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
KAYLA HAAS, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Steven P. Van Marel (suppression) and James Malloy (trial and sentencing), District Associate Judges.

         A defendant appeals the judgment and sentence imposed following her conviction for driving while barred.

          Mark C. Smith (until withdrawal), State Appellate Defender, Nan Jennisch, Assistant Appellate Defender, and Nicholas Jones, Student Legal Intern, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Darrel Mullins, Assistant Attorney General, Jessica Reynolds, Story County Attorney, and Jonathon Holscher, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

          PER CURIAM.

         Kayla Haas was convicted of driving while barred. On appeal, Haas challenges the district court's ruling denying her motion to suppress on the grounds she was subject to an impermissible pretextual seizure. She also challenges the reasonable suspicion of her stop. Further, Haas argues her counsel was ineffective and the district court improperly assessed court costs and attorney fees. We retained Haas's appeal.

         As to Haas's challenge of her denied motion to suppress, we affirm the district court's denial. "When a defendant challenges a district court's denial of a motion to suppress based upon the deprivation of a state or federal constitutional right, our standard of review is de novo." State v. Coffman, 914 N.W.2d 240, 244 (Iowa 2018) (quoting State v. Storm, 898 N.W.2d 140, 144 (Iowa 2017)). In State v. Brown, ___ N.W.2d___, ___ (Iowa 2019), we determined the subjective motivations of an individual officer in making a traffic stop under article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution are irrelevant as long as the officer has objectively reasonable cause to believe the motorist violated a traffic law. There, consistent with precedent in Iowa, we affirmed the district court's determination that the subjective reasoning in the decision to stop the motorist did not matter because the officer objectively observed traffic violations.

         We also affirm the district court judgment on Haas's second challenge, whether her stop was supported by reasonable suspicion. The standard of review for a constitutional search and seizure challenge is de novo. State v. Vance, 790 N.W.2d 775, 780 (Iowa 2010). We do not believe the officers violated article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution when they stopped Haas based on reasonable suspicion that she was driving while barred. At the very least, the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Haas's vehicle after they observed her and two other people getting into the vehicle before leaving the area.

         A traffic stop is generally reasonable, and thus constitutional under state and federal search and seizure provisions, if the police have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that the motorist violated a traffic law. Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393, 401-02, 134 S.Ct. 1683, 1690 (2014); Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809-810, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 1772 (1996); State v. Tague, 676 N.W.2d 197, 204 (Iowa 2004). In Vance, we held reasonable suspicion existed to support a traffic stop to investigate the validity of the motorist's driver's license "when the officer knows the registered owner of the vehicle has a suspended license, and the officer is unaware of any evidence or circumstances indicating the registered owner is not the driver of the vehicle." 790 N.W.2d at 781. In doing so, we explained, "[I]t is reasonable for an officer to infer the registered owner of the vehicle will do the vast amount of the driving." Id. Thus, "it is sufficiently reasonable to generate reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop to resolve the ambiguity as to whether criminal activity is afoot." Id. at 781-82. Yet, we also noted that reasonable suspicion would disappear if the officer obtained information suggesting that the driver is not the owner of the vehicle. Id. at 782.

         Haas claims the police were aware of circumstances that invalidated their assumption that Haas was driving the vehicle when they made the traffic stop. Namely, Haas points out that the officers in this case did not know her and observed three people enter the vehicle but did not see which of the three was driving. However, these circumstances do not invalidate the officers' assumption that Haas was driving her own vehicle when they made the traffic stop.

          Prior to initiating the traffic stop, the officers ran the license plate of the vehicle. They identified Haas as the registered owner and discovered that she had a suspended license. Soon after, the officers saw a woman that "appeared to be" Haas and two males leave the residence they were observing. Though the officers did not see who was driving the vehicle, it was still reasonable to assume that Haas, as the registered owner of the vehicle, would be doing "the vast amount of the driving." Id. at 781.

         We upheld the reasonableness of the search in Vance based on the officer's observation that the vehicle was registered to an owner with a suspended license despite the fact that the officer did not know the owner and "was unable to observe the sex or the identity of the driver." Id. at 783. Likewise, the fact that the officers in this case could not observe the driver's sex or identity does not invalidate their assumption that Haas was driving her vehicle. Consequently, we affirm the district court's judgment because there was reasonable suspicion to initiate an investigatory stop of the vehicle Haas was operating.

         Haas's ineffective-assistance claim that her trial counsel was ineffective for declining to challenge whether the license plate was malfunctioning fails on the merits. We review claims of ineffective assistance de novo. State v. Harrison, 914 N.W.2d 178, 187-88 (Iowa 2018). The United States Constitution and the Iowa Constitution provide defendants with the right to effective assistance of counsel. U.S. Const. amend. VI; Iowa Const. art. I, § 10. We generally preserve ineffective-assistance claims for postconviction-relief proceedings so the parties can "develop an adequate record of the claims" and counsel charged with ineffective assistance has the chance to respond to the claims. Harrison, 914 N.W.2d at 206. Nevertheless, we may resolve these claims on direct appeal when the record is adequate, as is the case here since it involves video evidence. See id.

         "Ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims require a showing by a preponderance of the evidence both that counsel failed an essential duty and that the failure resulted in prejudice." Id. at 188 (quoting State v. Schlitter, 881 N.W.2d 380, 388 (Iowa 2016)). The defendant must show both prongs of this test have been met. Id. at 206. In analyzing the defendant's claims, we "must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action 'might be considered sound trial strategy.'" Id. (quoting Nguyen v. State, 878 N.W.2d 744, 752 (Iowa 2016)).

         Counsel fails an essential duty if he or she "perform[s] below the standard demanded of a reasonably competent attorney." Id. (quoting Ledezma v. State, 626 N.W.2d 134, 142 (Iowa 2001) (en banc)). Prejudice results from this failure when "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Ledezma, 626 N.W.2d at 143 (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2068 (1984)). A reasonable probability exists if the probability is "sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694, 104 S.Ct. at 2068). Ultimately, Haas must show that "absent the errors, the fact finder would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt." Id. (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 695, 104 S.Ct. at 2068-69).

         Haas argues that the dash-cam video shows her vehicle had an illuminated license plate that was not malfunctioning in any form. Iowa Code section 321.388 requires a white, electric light to illuminate a rear license plate to a distance of fifty feet. Iowa Code § 321.388 (2017). The Iowa Code also requires reflective coating on license plates. Id. ยง 321.35. The absence of these equipment features ...

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