Monday, February 23, 2009

Search of a Parolee's Hotel Room

State v. Ochoa, no. 08-0412 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2009)

Ochoa was on parole. He signed a parole agreement which contained an agreement to submit to a search at any time with or without a warrant. He was staying in a hotel in Bettendorf in a high crime area and a policeman, aware of Ochoa's status as a parolee, asked to search his room. Drugs were found and Ochoa was charged with possession of controlled substances and illegal possession of a prescription drug. 

At trial, Ochoa moved to suppress, arguing that there was no reasonable suspicion, no consent, and that the parole agreement did not justify the search. His motion was granted, and the State petitioned for further review. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's grant of the motion to suppress.

The court of appeals noted that paroled inmates are under the supervision of the Department of Corrections and are required to comply with the terms and conditions of their parole.  The court of appeals found further support in Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843 (2006), which is esssentially identical on the facts as Ochoa's case.

Parolees are under the custody of the Department of Corrections, serving their sentences outside prison walls. They sign a parole agreement in which they consent to the terms and conditions of their release. Because Ochoa and Samson had no reasonable expectation of privacy because of their status as parolees, reasonable cause analysis did not apply.

White Line Fever

State v. Sisson, no. 08-1072 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2009).

A Cedar Falls officer observed a vehicle weaving within its lane, and when the vehicle crossed white portion of the emergency line the vehicle was stopped. The driverconsented to field sobriety tests which were inconclusive because of wind conditions and a preliminary breath test which Sisson failed.  He moved to suppress the stop, arguing that the state did not have reasonable cause to stop his vehicle.
The court reviewed recent case law, in particular where the vheicle under observation crossed a painted median line. The court held that the totality of the circumstances indicated that reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was underway.

The takehome's clear. Let them cross a line.

Whoops! I Did It Again! Awards

This year's Whoops! I Did It Again! Flat Learning Curve award goes to the Des Moines Police Department, following hard on the heels of last year's dunce awards. 

With that we have

State v. Walls, no. 07-0452, (Iowa Feb. 20, 2009).

Walls was arrested, tried, and convicted of sex abuse-first degree, wilful injury, and kidnaping. When arrested, Walls was read his Mirandas and asked to contact his attorney. Asked "Is getting in contact with Owens what you're wanting me to do?" Walls answered in the affirmative.

At that point, questioning should have stopped, but it didn't. Walls confessed to several of the allegations. His confession was admitted and he was convicted. 

Walls had moved to suppress his confession, which motion was denied at trial. On appeal to the court of appeal the court concluded that although there was a violation of Walls' rights under the constitution the error was harmless.

The Supreme Court found that the state's use of the confessions at trial was not harmless error.

Folks, the takehome's clear. When the offender asks for his or her attorney, questioning must cease.


Friday, February 06, 2009

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me, Part 3

State v. Duffy, no. 07-1942 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 4, 2009)

In 1986, the body of Karen Weber  was found by the side of a road and the homicide went unsolved. Twenty years later, Duffy, on probation for OWI, was required to give a DNA sample before being released from probation. 

That DNA sample matched DNA taken from cigarette butts at the scene of the Weber homicide. Taken into custody, Duffy confessed to the killing.

Charged with  the murder of Weber, Duffy moved to suppress the confession, the DNA sample taken by his PO, argued he was under the influence at the time he confessed, and that his case did not fall within the reach of the 2005 statute authorizing submission of DNA samples, and that the whole thing was unconstitutional.

The State conceded that taking the DNA sample was a search, but the court held that the standard was reasonableness, and the process of swabbing a person's mouth was reasonable and did not violate Duffy's 4th Amendment rights.

This is an interesting subject on which I may have more to say later.


Avoiding Service Only Goes So Far.

State v. Sullivan, no. 08-0541 (Iowa Ct. App. February 4, 2009)

The Dubuque county sheriff attempted to serve civil process on the defendant 29 times in the summer of 2007. The department called him and asked him to come to the office to pick up papers, which he agreed to do, but never showed.

After a request to locate the defendant was broadcast, a policeman stopped Sullivan in Asbury. He admitted he'd been trying to avoid service, and he was charged with interference with official acts.

Sullivan was tried before a magistrate, found guilty, and appealed to District Court, which affirmed the magistrate's findings. On this, Sullivan appealed, arguing that interference requires the use of actual or constructive physicalforce.

The court of appeals held otherwise, noting that if Sullivan merely did not answer his door they might have been inclined to reverse, but that his actions in misleading the department when they called him was an affirmative act that delayed service, constituting putting obstacles in the path of officers completing their duties.

Part Time County Attorney Conflict of Interest Prompts New Trial

State v. Casey, no. 08-0318 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 4, 2008)

Robin Casey was charged in Wayne County with six counts of forgery, and Wayne County attorney Alan Wilson filed the trial information and minutes.  Six checks belonging to Casey's employer had gone missing and each of them wqs made out to Casey and cashed.

Some time after that the Corydon State Bank filed a small claims action against Casey, and Wilson, acting on behalf of the bank applied for an order for a debtor's examination in that case. She never appeared.

At trial on the forgery charges Casey was found guilty, and her attorney moved for a new trial based on the obvious conflict of interest inherent in Wilson representing the state in criminal litigation and the bank in civil litigation against the same defendant.

The district court granted a new trial and the court of appeals affirmed.

The First Thing We Do, We Kill All The Witnesses, part 3

State v. Harper, no. 07-0449 (Iowa Feb. 6, 2009).

This is a continuation of a particularly nasty bit of criminal business from Webster County, and, we presume, the last we will hear of Sessions Harper for a long time.

A woman badly injured in a house fire was brought to the hospital for treatment. An x-ray technician heard her say "Harper did it, Harper did it."

The attending physician asked her what had happened and she said "Sessions Harper raped me, tied me, and set my house on fire." Asked to repeat it, she did. Another doctor asked her essentially the same thing and she answered the same way. 

She died eighteen days later. Investigation revealed that the house had been torched and the fire alarms had been disabled.

Harper moved to bar the admission of the victim's statements at trial, arguing that they were hearsay and violated.....a drum roll, maestro!.....his rights under the Confrontation Clause to confront his accusers. That motion was denied and Harper was convicted and earned himself three consecutive life sentences.

The court ruled that the statements made by the victim were admissible as contemporaneously made, spontaneous excited utterances and also as dying declarations. 

Specifically, the victim knew that death was near, because she said she thought she was going to die.

In addressing the Confrontation Clause argument, the court noted that out of court statements that are non testimonial in nature are admissible where the victim is neither acting as a witness or testifying, but describing events that actually happened. In particular, the emergent view of courts around the country is that statements to medical personnel are for the most part nontestimonial.

If a statement is testimonial it may still be admissible if it is a dying declaration or a forfeiture by wrongdoing, where the intent of the defendant was to prevent the victim from testifying.

The takehome from this case is clear. With an injured victim, resist the temptation to ask what happened and who did it before the medical people have done their work, unless it seems that they are in imminent danger of death. 

What the medics learn may well avoid the reach of the confrontation clause.