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State v. Hutchison

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DOUGLAS EARL HUTCHISON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Sioux County, Robert J. Dull, District Associate Judge.

         Douglas Hutchison appeals from judgment and sentence entered following the denial of his motion to suppress and a trial on the minutes of testimony. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, (until withdrawal), and Theresa R. Wilson and Brenda J. Gohr (until withdrawal), Assistant Appellate Defenders, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Douglas Hutchison appeals from judgment and sentence entered following the denial of his motion to suppress and a trial on the minutes of testimony, after which the district court found him guilty of operating while intoxicated (OWI), in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2017). Because the court erred in finding the officers' warrantless entry into the garage permissible under the community-caretaking exception, we reverse the judgment and sentence and remand for further proceedings.

         On September 23, 2017, Iowa State Trooper Matthew Ross received a radio report of a reckless driver. The report identified the location and make of the vehicle and the fact that the vehicle had gone into the ditch on two occasions, going into a corn field on the second occasion. The report was being given by a citizen following the vehicle. Trooper Ross located the vehicle parked in a residential driveway. Trooper Ross called for backup, and Sioux County Deputy Sheriff Brad DeKam responded. Both officers approached the vehicle and observed grass and corn stalks stuck on it, but no driver or occupant in the vehicle. The officers knocked on the door to the residence and received no response. They then went around the house and knocked on a side door to the garage. They heard a voice from inside say, "I'm coming." The minutes of testimony indicated Trooper Ross opened the door and Deputy DeKam followed Trooper Ross in and observed Hutchison coming up the stairs from the basement. Trooper Ross testified Deputy DeKam opened the door and Ross followed him in. Based on observations and questions after the entry, Hutchison was charged with OWI.

         Hutchison filed a motion to suppress statements and physical evidence, contending the warrantless entry was unlawful. In his motion to suppress, Hutchison noted, "In this case, officers were clearly investigating the possible offense of careless driving, a simple misdemeanor." He asserted the community-caretaking exception is not a justification for the warrantless entry and search of a home in the absence of some form of an objectively reasonable emergency and the "State has not been able to articulate [a] viable ground why this is an emergency."

         The district court denied the motion to suppress, concluding the community-caretaking exception to the warrant requirements allowed the officers to enter and question Hutchison. The court concluded:

It cannot be contested that the information available to the officers fully supported a conclusion that whoever was operating the vehicle was extremely impaired for whatever reasons, be it alcohol or medical issues. Questions regarding the operator's health and immediate safety were founded and relevant. Under the community caretaking function of law enforcement the officers had specific and articulable facts to be reasonably concerned about the operator of the vehicle. Such factors constitute a bona fide community caretaking function and justify the actions of the officers in this case.

         A trial on the minutes of testimony followed. The court found Hutchison guilty as charged and entered judgment and sentence. The court ordered Hutchinson to pay restitution without a determination on his ability to pay.

         Hutchison appeals.

"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." We examine the whole record and "make 'an independent evaluation of the totality of the circumstances.'" "Each case must ...

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