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State v. Tostenson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 9, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RYAN BRADLEY TOSTENSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Worth County, Colleen D. Weiland, Judge.

         Ryan Tostenson appeals following his conviction for operating while intoxicated.

          Grant C. Gangestad of Gourley, Rehkemper & Lindholm, P.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Bridget A. Chambers, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         Ryan Tostenson appeals his conviction for operating while intoxicated (OWI), challenging the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop. Tostenson contends the State violated his constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure because the officer did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop him. Because the State has failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the traffic stop, we reverse the denial of Tostenson's motion to suppress and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Sergeant John Michael Smith of the Worth County Sheriff's Office was off duty when he watched a silver four-door sedan pull into the parking lot of a Dollar General store and strike a light pole while turning around. The car left and pulled into the parking lot of the adjacent Casey's store. After the impact, Sergeant Smith saw damage to the metal shroud at the base of the light pole. He walked to the Casey's parking lot and observed the car's license plate number before contacting the Worth County dispatch to report the incident.

         Manly Police Department Officer Cameron Curoe responded to Sergeant Smith's report. Although the vehicle left before Officer Curoe arrived, Sergeant Smith told the officer which direction he saw the car was heading. Officer Curoe drove that direction, located the vehicle, and stopped it. He noticed damage to the underside of the car's front bumper. While speaking with Tostenson, the driver, Officer Curoe smelled "a slight odor" of alcoholic beverage on Tostenson's breath. Later, when Tostenson was sitting in the front seat of the patrol vehicle, Officer Curoe smelled "a very strong odor of alcohol" coming from Tostenson's breath. After field sobriety testing, Officer Curoe transported him to the jail for a breath test, which showed Tostenson's blood alcohol concentration was .19. Officer Curoe cited Tostenson for hit and run-vehicle damage only.[1] The State charged Tostenson with OWI.

         Tostenson moved to suppress the evidence discovered after stopping his vehicle, alleging Officer Curoe did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop him. The district court denied the motion following a hearing. In its ruling, the court determined that a violation Iowa Code section 321.262 could not justify the traffic stop because the accident did not involve a vehicle driven or attended by another person. But the court did not restrict its analysis to this section, noting that Officer Curoe testified he was investigating a "hit and run," a "much more general term" for which a "number of statutes are relevant." The court found Officer Curoe had grounds for stopping Tostenson based on a suspected violation of Iowa Code 321.266(2), which requires a driver of a vehicle involved in an accident causing $1500 or more in property damage to report the accident. The court found that "the extent of damage to the pole and to [Tostenson]'s vehicle might not exceed $1500" but concluded that "it is not unreasonable to think that it might." Following bench trial on the minutes of evidence, the district court found Tostenson guilty of OWI.

         II. Analysis.

         Tostenson contends the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress because the traffic stop violated his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. We review the denial of a motion to suppress alleging constitutional violations de novo. See State v. Brown, 930 N.W.2d 840, 844 (Iowa 2019). This standard requires that we examine the entire record and make an independent evaluation given the unique circumstances before us. See id.

         "A traffic stop is permissible under our Iowa and Federal Constitutions when supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion of a crime." State v. McIver, 858 N.W.2d 699, 702 (Iowa 2015). Probable cause exists when the circumstances would allow a reasonable person to believe a person is committing or has committed a crime. See State v. Tague, 676 N.W.2d 197, 201 (Iowa 2004). If an officer has only a reasonable suspicion that a person is engaged in criminal activity, the officer may briefly detain the person to investigate. See id. at 204. "When a peace officer observes any type of traffic ...


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