Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Plain Smell of Ammonia in Hallway Sufficient to Conclude Criminal Activity Occurring

State v. Simmons, 04-1327 (Iowa 2006)

A Clarinda police officer went to an apartment building on a complaint of loud music. While in the hallway the officer smelled what he belived to be anhydrous ammonia coming from another apartment and contacted his supervisor who referred him to a certified methamphetamine lab expert. The officer and the expert returned to the building and the expert confirmed that the smell was of anhydrous ammonia, commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine by the lithium reduction method.

The officers knocked and announced their presence because they were concerned about safety in view of the hazards of exposure to ammonia fumes. Receiving no satisfactory response the officers forcibly entered the apartment and took the occupants into custody. There they found a working meth lab and Simmons admitted the manufacturing operation was his.

The fighting issue on appeal was whether the district court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress the warrantless entry and search was supportable.

In an issue of first impression, the Iowa Supreme Court held that the smell established the necessary probable cause for a search. The court also found that the volatile nature and dangers of a working methamphetamine lab established the necessary exigent circumstances that allowed the initial warrantless search of the premises.

Simmons' statements while being questioned were allowable admissions under the public safety exception to Miranda v. Arizona announced in State v. Deases, 518 N.W.2d 784 (Iowa 1994).



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