Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Potential Miranda Violation Treated As Harmless Error

State v. Damm, 05-1024 (Iowa Ct. App. June 14, 2006)

A citizen of Bremer County heard and saw a loud vehicle near his residence on two occasions in the morning, and went to investigate where the vehicle had stopped. There he discovered material that later proved to be anhydrous ammonia, used in manufacturing methamphetamine. The citizen contacted the Bremer County Sheriff's Office and an officer went to investigate.

While the citizen and Deputy Dehmlow were conversing, a vehicle appeared which the citizen thought sounded like the one he had heard in the morning. Dehmlow then followed and ultimately stopped a truck that matched the description that the citizen had given. Damm was the driver and the truck smelled of ammonia or ether.

While returning to the scene following Damm, it was discovered that the jar of ammonia had been moved, presumably by Damm's passenger, and other incriminating material including a jar containing 154.9 grams of methamphetamine was discovered wrapped in Carpet King shirts of the type the defendant and his friend were wearing.

A warrantless search of Damm's truck produced lithium, ephedrine, and a powdery substance. Damm and his passenger were arrested, and a search warrant was issued for Damm's home.

The search of Damm's home produced cash, burnt foil, receipts for pseudoephedrine tablets and more methamphetamine.

At the station Deputy Booth reviewed the Miranda warnings and Damm attempted several times to contact attorneys but ultimately answered some questions about his activities.

Damm filed a motion to suppress evidence, saying that the stop of his truck was unreasonable and that his willingness to answer some questions was not a waiver of his right to counsel. The trial court denied both motions and Damm was convicted.

The court of appeals first addressed the vehicle stop. At the time of the stop, Dehmlow was investigating two crimes, trespass and manufacture of methamphetamine. He had reasons to believe the truck had been in the area, and evidence was wrapped in an unweatherd and unsoiled shirt. This, and the description of the vehicle by the citizen gave reasonable cause to investigate further.

Next the court considered the Miranda waiver issue. The court, not deciding the issue on the merits and assuming for purposes of discussion that a limited waiver had not occurred, nevertheless found that such was harmless error because the other evidence that was admitted was what convicted the defendant.

The lesson for officers (and, as a matter of truth for those who aspire to practice the criminal arts), of course, is the "Six-P" Principle, which holds that Proper Planning and Procedure Prevents Poor Performance.


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