Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree and a Cast of Thousands: Everything's Up to Date in Jasper County

State v. Lane, No. 04-1147 (Iowa January 19, 2007)

A Jasper County deputy saw one Hammer, a known barred motorist behind the wheel. Before he was able to take action he observed Hammer bail out and the passenger drive off. After acquiring the license information from the car the deputy saw Hammer enter a garage at the residence of one Hoffert.

Backup was summoned to arrest Hammer and one Hedlund came out, saw the sheriff's men, said "It's the cops!" and reentered the garage, where the deputies found Hedlund, Hammer and one Lane. Lane was observed stuffing something in a thermal mug and placing it on the floor. When the deputy lifted the plastic bag from the mouth of the mug he observed what provedto be a plastic bag of methamphetamine and scales. It was known that Lane was a large scale dealer who carried his stash in a thermal mug.

There was some colloquy:

Lane: Do you have a warrant?
Deputy: Did you just graduate from law school?
Lane: No.
Deputy: This badge pretty much lets me do what I need to.

A warrant was gotten and the area was secured. While this was happening one Hogan, Lane's girlfriend and a known drug user was seen driving down the street. Officers went to the residence, were admitted by Hogan's daughter, and informed Hogan that Lane was under arrest for possession. Hogan gave permission to search the upper floor of the residence. Drug paraphernalia and a lockbox were found, but Hogan did not have a key.

After Mirandizing Lane he was asked about the lockbox and admitted it contained a large stash of methamphetamine. Lane told the deputy where the key could be found and when the box was opened better than 300 gm of methamphetamine was seized.

Lane moved to suppress the evidence seized at the garage as a result of an illegal search. He argued that the illegality of the search tainted the search of the house.

The trial court, Judge Huscher presiding, found that the search and seizure of the garage could not stand because there was no hot pursuit or exigent circumstances, but as long as the consent to search at the residence was voluntarily given, the evidence was lawfully obtained.

The State bore the burden of proving consent to search was voluntary. Hogan, a woman with an 8th grade education, testified she did not read the consent to search form, but the officer testified he'd read the form to Hogan, explained it and that she appeared to understand what was presented to her.

The court noted that the officers were permitted to enter the residence, and the officer and Hogan had known each other for years-as often happens in our rural counties. The officers did not mislead Hogan as to why they were there, and there was no suggestion that Hogan was going to be arrested. She signed her name and printed it as well with her birthdate and social security number.

Using a totality of the circumstances analysis, the court found that the consent to search was voluntarily given.

Next, the court turned to the appendant "fruit of the poisonous tree" argument, which concerns secondary evidence obtained because of a prior illegality. Under Iowa precedent it was unnecessary to consider whether there was a break in the illegal entry and the subsequent consent.

The Court indicates that the correct inquiry is whether the evidence and not the consent was obtained as the product of the first, illegal search. In a consent case, the question is going to be whether the consent was obtained through exploitation of the previous illegality or not.

Under the facts of this case, it was found that the consent search of the house was authorized by Hogan. She had no knowledge of the illegal entry at the garage and Hogan was never deprived of her liberty.

Chief Justice Ternus dissented because she concludes that the prior illegal entry of the garage provided a significant lead in terms of what other evidence could be obtained and thus led directly to Hogan. Justice Wiggins also dissented for similar reasons although in more detail.

Stay tuned. This one's headed downtown, I fear.

The takehome's clear for the officer on the street. Timing is EVERYTHING.

Although the Supremes bent over backward to save a good bust, the problem might not have occurred to begin with if the officers had just taken a deep breath, secured the area and obtained a warrant to search the garage based on what they saw Lane do, without going farther into the matter.

In addition, even had the state lost the case, 300 grams of deadly poison was removed from the streets, and that had to put Lane on the outs with his financiers-which may have been reason enough to stretch the envelope to the point of rupture.


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