Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ho Ho Ho. What does Santa have in his bag?

I've decided to do a little combining this time around in the interests of brevity and less work for yours truly. In the spirit of the times, you unnerstand, doing more with less and all that.

A drum roll, maestro. T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t! Now for the parade of rogues.

State v. Gustafson, no. 08-1429 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 17, 2009).

Gustafson was stopped in Guthrie County after a trooper observed that his license plate was not illuminated-a violation of Iowa Code section 321.288. The trooper observed the usual signs of intoxication and administered the breathalyzer and field sobriety tests with predictably bad results for Gustafson.

The court sustained Gustafson's motion to suppress premised on State v. Reisetter, 747 N.W.2d 792 (Iowa Ct. App. 2008), which holds that in order to form the reasonable suspicion to stop for a violation of 321.288 the officer must be within fifty feet of the vehicle more or less or an approximate equivalent thereto. The state appealed.

The court overruled the district court, holding that the trooper's observations approximated a distance of fifty feet more or less, thus complying with the benchmark established in Reisetter.

The takehome? Be able to establish your distances and observations before lighting the vehicle up.

A similar case is presented in State v. Knapp, no. 08-1918 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 17, 2009). A routine vehicle stop for an unilluminated license plate under Iowa Code section 321.288 led to the discovery that Knapp's license was suspended. He was arrested and the vehicle was searched, the search uncovering crushed pseudoephedrine, other materials for manufacturing methamphetamine and a small amount of methamphetamine. Knapp was convicted of possession, conspiracy to manufacture, and possession of a precursor with the intent to manufacture.

Knapp moved to suppress the results of the vehicle search, alleging it was undertaken without reasonable cause. The court overruled his motion and Knapp was convicted. Relying in Reisetter, supra, Knapp argued that the officer did not have reasonable cause to stopp his vehicle. The court of appeals disagreed, finding that when the officer actually initiated a stop he was but nine feet behind the vehicle.

State v. Johnson, no. 08-0320 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 17, 2009)

This is another Guthrie County case.

Johnson had a few beers and decided to go after his estranged wife. Retrieving a pistol, he drove to her home, shot a male friend, and then proceeded to shoot his estranged wife. After these events he returned to the fallen male friend and made damn sure he was dead by a series of crushing blows to the head, and then administered the same to his estranged wife. He was identified personally by his daughter at the scene.

Johnson made admissions to his daughter, sister in law and brother which led to turning himself in at the sheriff's office. Deputy Long read the Miranda warning and jailed him.

DCI agent Mortvedt interviewed him twice during which Johnson again implicated himself. Johnson was convicted after a jury trial and appealed, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel in that the attorney failed to move to suppress his statements to police and to object to their introduction at trial.

There were two interviews at the jail by Special Agent Mortvedt in which Johnson read the Miranda warning aloud, and made an equivocal statement "Do you think I need a lawyer?" Then, without prompting, Johnson resumed the conversation without further questioning and subsequently confessed to the killings.

The Court of Appeals found that Johnson had failed to show breach of an essential duty by his trial attorney such that he could establish prejudice, a reasonable probability that but for counsel's failure the results would have been different. The conviction was affirmed on the basis that loose lips can, in fact, sink ships.

In State v. Jones, no. 08-1917 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2009) the defendant was observed not wearing his seatbelt and stopped the vehicle. Jones buckled up for safety, he was spoken to, and released.

However there was more going on. Contemporaneously, a storefront check cashing parlor had been robbed at gunpoint and a good description had been obtained of the suspect and his vehicle. A plainclothes officer had located the vehicle-which was Jones'- and asked a uniform officer to stop the suspect vehicle. Once the driver was identified, his photo was placed in a photo lienup and Jones was identified by a store employee. A warrant was obtained, Jones' home was searched, and a 9 mm pistol and papers evidencing Jones' residence in a safe in the home.

Jones moved to suppress the vehicle stop, but that effort failed, because Officer Crozier stopped Jones for a seatbelt violation but also because he had knowledge that the car and driver may have been involved in an armed robbery.

There was a reasonable basis for the stop, which did not result in an arrest or a citation. It could have worked out differently but for the seatbelt violation which supplied all the reasonable cause anyone needed.


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