Federal courts mostly unaffected by government shutdown – at least for now

By: Rox Laird on January 8th, 2019

Federal courts in Iowa will operate mostly as usual at least through next week, despite the partial government shutdown, according to statements released this week by federal court administrators.

The federal judiciary is on course to continue operating through Jan. 11 using fees and unspent fund balances, court officials around the country were told this week by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. For now, clerks’ offices remain open and electronic case filing and access remains in operation.

The goal is to stretch that through Jan. 18, but the courts will have to pare back nonessential spending. That would allow the court personnel to receive regular paychecks through the end of the month.

Although criminal cases are expected to proceed uninterrupted, some federal courts have issued orders – posted on court internet sites – suspending civil cases in which the government is a party.

Iowa Supreme Court, citing the Iowa Constitution, limits warrantless searches of containers in impounded vehicles

By: Rox Laird on July 17th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court added another category of police searches where it invoked the Iowa Constitution to extend broader protection than the U.S. Supreme Court has granted under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For drivers whose vehicles are impounded and searched by law enforcement, the ruling in State v. Ingram handed down June 29 means closed containers may not be opened as part of an inventory of the contents of the vehicle without a warrant or consent. For law-enforcement authorities, it means jumping through more hoops before searching and inventorying contents of impounded vehicles.

Bion Ingram was stopped by a police officer in Newton for a traffic violation and the borrowed car he was driving was impounded because the plates and registration sticker did not match. As part of the inventory search, officers opened a small cloth bag on the floor and found a glass pipe containing methamphetamine.

The seven-member Court unanimously agreed that the search was unconstitutional, but the justices split 4-3 on whether to apply the U.S. or the Iowa Constitution.

The majority cited Article I Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution in an opinion written by Justice Brent Appel joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht.

Justice Edward Mansfield filed a special concurring opinion, joined by Justices Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager, which argued that opening and searching the bag violated the Fourth Amendment because the Newton police did not follow a “standardized local policy” in searching the bag, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court. Mansfield said there was no reason to go beyond that and decide this case based on the Iowa Constitution.

Chief Justice Cady, in a separate concurrence, pointed out that inventory searches give law enforcement officers “free rein to conduct a warrantless investigatory search and to seize incriminating property, despite the doctrine’s genesis as a means of protecting private property, guarding against false theft claims, and protecting officers from potential harm.”

Article I Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution’s says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable seizures and searches shall not be violated,” which is nearly identical to the wording of the federal Fourth Amendment.

But the Iowa Supreme Court has increasingly parted company with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment holdings where the Iowa justices believe Fourth Amendment protections have been eroded. That is especially true, Appel wrote, where the federal court has moved away from requiring a warrant and toward a “reasonableness” standard.

Appel traced the U.S. Supreme Court’s evolution on inventory searches since 1973 where the Court has found inventory searches to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Court rejected a case-by-case analysis and instead requires that law-enforcement authorities have a local policy for inventory searches. Thus, the search of a backpack found in a vehicle was upheld because police in that case had such a policy, while in a subsequent ruling the search of a suitcase in the trunk of a car was rejected because police lacked a policy.

Appel wrote that empowering local law enforcement to determine the extent of Fourth Amendment protections in inventory searches is “rich with irony, as the Fourth Amendment was explicitly designed as a bulwark to restrain law enforcement in the context of searches and seizures.”

The Iowa Supreme Court, he said, took the opportunity in this case to “stake out higher constitutional ground” and “to restore the balance between citizens and law enforcement by adopting a tighter legal framework for warrantless inventory searches and seizures of automobiles under Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution than provided under the recent precedents of the United States Supreme Court.”

Appel said the Iowa Supreme Court’s holding does not mean warrantless impoundments are never appropriate, but he suggested that police explore alternatives when the goal is not investigative but to protect property, such as allowing the vehicle to be parked and locked by the driver or calling a friend to pick up the vehicle. “Impoundment of a vehicle should be permitted only if these options have been adequately explored.”

Felony-murder rule can be applied to juveniles, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on June 29th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the felony-murder rule may be applied to juvenile offenders in a decision upholding the sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole for a defendant who was 16 at the time of the crime.

Keyon Harrison was found guilty by a Polk County jury of first-degree murder for his role in the robbery and murder of a marijuana dealer. Prosecutors conceded at trial that the evidence suggested it was Harrison’s 17-year-old companion, not Harrison, who fatally shot the victim. But Harrison was found guilty of aiding and abetting the robbery and murder, and that is the equivalent of first-degree murder under the felony-murder rule.

The Court, in a 4-2 decision, ruled that using the felony-murder rule against a juvenile violates neither the U.S. nor the Iowa Constitution. The majority opinion was written by Justice Bruce Zager joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman.  Justice Brent Appel filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice David Wiggins. Justice Daryl Hecht did not participate in the case.

The felony-murder rule, which has ancient roots in common law, is codified in Chapter 707 of the Iowa Code and transforms forcible felonies such as robbery into first-degree murder if a person is killed in the course of the felony, regardless of intent or premeditation.

By arguing the felony-murder rule is unconstitutional for juveniles, the Court said Harrison is asking for greater due-process rights for juvenile offenders than adult offenders. But the justices drew a distinction between criminal offenses and criminal sentences applied to juveniles.

While the Iowa Supreme Court has recognized that juveniles are “constitutionally different from adults,” the Court has never held that the elements of criminal offenses should be transformed to account for that difference, Zager wrote. Quoting from an earlier decision, he said the Court’s “constitutional analysis is not about excusing juvenile behavior, but imposing punishment in a way that is consistent with our understanding of humanity today.” This is achieved with individualized sentencing, Zager wrote.

While Harrison argues that life in prison is “grossly disproportionate” in his case, he was immediately eligible for parole, thus benefitting from the Court’s 2016 decision in State v. Sweet that held that juvenile offenders may not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The Parole Board provides juvenile offenders individualized analysis of the conditions of their past lives and their progress toward rehabilitation in deciding whether to approve early release, which Zager said is consistent with the Court’s approach to juvenile sentencing.

In his dissent, Justice Appel framed the Harrison case stark terms:

“The question in this case is whether an unarmed child may be subject to life in prison with the possibility of parole for participating in a marijuana robbery where a coparticipant brought a gun to the crime and killed the robbery victim.”

As Iowa Supreme Court heads into last month of its term, 28 decisions are still in the pipeline

By: Rox Laird on May 31st, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court is expected to release decisions in five cases Friday, which will bring to 82 the number of cases disposed of so far in the 2017-18 term.

The Court heard its final round of oral arguments on April 10, and all cases have now been submitted. With the release of Friday’s decisions, 23 submitted cases will remain to be decided between now and the end of the term in one month.

At that point, the Court will have disposed of 105 cases, including nine attorney-discipline cases, which is about normal for the Court, which typically decides about 105 cases each year.

One of the five cases expected to be handed down Friday is Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church, on whether church elders failed to adequately supervise a male pastor accused of sexually exploiting female congregants, or whether the church is shielded by the religious-freedom clauses of the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

Among the cases of note that remain in the pipeline:

Honomichl v. Valley View Swine, on whether an Iowa statute that gives livestock operations limited immunity from nuisance liability violates the inalienable rights clause of the Iowa Constitution, and Planned Parenthood v. Kimberly Reynolds, on the constitutionality of Iowa’s statutory abortion restrictions.

A choice between giving up constitutional rights and personal property is no choice at all, the Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on May 31st, 2018

A person who claims ownership of property seized by the State should not have to choose between invoking constitutional rights or forfeiting the property, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled May 25 (In the Matter of Property Seized From Jean Carlos Herrera and Ferndando Rodgriguez).

Jean Carlos Herrera argued that seizure of the vehicle he was driving, $44,900 in cash and other items was the product of an illegal traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I Sec. 8 of the Iowa Constitution.

But the Pottawattamie District Court ruled that Herrera did not have standing to bring the constitutional claim because Iowa’s forfeiture statute mandates that persons claiming possession of seized property explain how they acquired ownership of or interest in the property. Herrera asserted that doing so would violate his rights under the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, but the District Court also rejected that argument as well.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-0 decision said the District Court was wrong on both counts. Because Herrera invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege, the trial court must first rule on the Fourth Amendment search question to determine whether the property can be used as evidence in the civil forfeiture proceeding. On a separate question, the Court ruled that co-claimant Fernando Rodriquez is entitled to attorney fees for his efforts to retain possession of the seized vehicle.

The decision was written by Justice Thomas Waterman and joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield, Brent Appel, David Wiggins and Bruce Zager. Justice Daryl Hecht did not participate in the decision.

Iowa’s forfeiture statute allows the State to seize property used or obtained in a crime. A person who claims ownership of or an interest in seized property must – under penalty of perjury – state his or her interest in the property, including “the date, the identity of the transferor, and the circumstances of the claimant’s acquisition of the interest in the property.”

Because Herrera invoked his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer those questions to avoid self-incrimination, the Court said the trial court must first rule on Herrera’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained in the vehicle search.

Waterman cited a 1991 Iowa Supreme Court forfeiture decision that said the State cannot use evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment in a forfeiture proceeding.

“The outcome of the motion to suppress determines what evidence the state can rely on during the forfeiture proceeding,” Waterman wrote. “If Herrera ultimately succeeds on his motion to suppress, the State will be unable to rely on the suppressed evidence in proving the probable cause required for the forfeiture.”

The Court said Herrera has standing to challenge the forfeiture because his privilege claim under the Fifth Amendment “trumps” the mandate in the forfeiture statute that he testify as to how he came to have an interest in the seized property. Otherwise, Waterman wrote, Herrera faces a “difficult choice between asserting his privilege against self-incrimination or foregoing his claim for return of the contested property.”

Finally, the Court held that Fernandez, Herrera’s co-claimant who is the registered owner of the seized vehicle, is entitled to attorney fees for his efforts to reclaim the vehicle.

The State argued that since it voluntarily withdrew its objections to Fernandez’s claim to the vehicle he was not entitled to attorney fees because he was not the “prevailing party.” The Court disagreed, noting that the litigation over recovering the vehicle took place over five months. “The State’s acquiescence to the vehicle’s return after months of contested litigation is tantamount to a voluntary dismissal that in other contexts has been held sufficient to support a fee award,” Waterman wrote.

Iowa Supreme Court preview: Final cases of the term set for oral argument April 10

By: Rox Laird on April 9th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hold its final round of oral arguments April 10 before the justices devote the remainder of the term cranking out opinions in previously submitted cases.

The justices will hear arguments in four cases, including one attorney-discipline case. Two cases will be submitted to the court without oral argument. Following are previews of three of the cases to be argued.

In the Matter of Property Seized From Jean Carlos Herrera and Fernando Rodriguez

Set for argument at 9 a.m. April 10

Jean Carlos Herrera and Fernando Rodriguez appeal the dismissal by the Pottawattamie County District Court of their claims regarding the State’s seizure of an automobile belonging to Rodriguez and contents of the automobile belonging to Herrera, including $44,900 in cash. The Supreme Court granted further review of a ruling by the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming the District Court in part and reversing in part.

The two claimants raise distinct issues in this consolidated appeal. Rodriguez argues he should be able to recover attorney fees since his vehicle was returned to him by the State. Herrera argues separately that he is in the position of waiving one constitutional right to assert another.

Herrera asserts that the search and seizure were illegal under the Fourth Amendment. But he cannot raise that issue without first establishing standing. To do that, he must testify to his ownership interest in the seized property, which he cannot do without running the risk that his testimony could be used against him in violation of his rights under the Fifth Amendment.

“This forces [Herrera] to make an unconstitutional choice between his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, and is untenable under both the Iowa and federal constitution,” his attorney, Dean Stowers, said in a brief submitted to the Court.

Herrera argues that the trial court should first address the legality of the search and seizure. If they weren’t valid, there is no need to force him to forfeit his Fifth Amendment rights by testifying about his ownership interest in the seized items.

Michelle R. Skadburg v. Gary Gately and Whitfield & Eddy

Set for argument at 9 a.m. April 10

Skadburg appeals a ruling from the Cerro Gordo County District Court dismissing her legal malpractice suit against Gary Gately and Whitfield & Eddy. The trial court ruled the suit was barred because it was filed after the five-year statute of limitations had expired. The Supreme Court granted the application for further review from the Iowa Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court.

The three-judge Court of Appeals panel split 2-1 in ruling there is a “genuine issue of material fact as to when Skadburg had knowledge of her cause of action” against Gately. Absent that knowledge, the statute of limitations would not have expired before she filed suit.

City of Des Moines, et al. v. Iowa Department of Transportation

Set for argument at 1:30 p.m. April 10

Des Moines, along with Muscatine and Cedar Rapids, appeal a decision by the Polk County District Court that the Iowa Department of Transportation has the power to regulate the manner in which cities enforce traffic laws – in this instance by ordering the cities to remove certain automated speed-enforcement cameras set up on primary highways within their boundaries.

The cities urge the court to reverse the trial court and declare that they have the power under the home-rule amendment to the Iowa Constitution to enforce traffic laws using automated cameras.

The DOT argues its automated-camera regulations on primary highways are justified in the interest of safety and uniformity, and that home-rule authority “must yield to legitimate DOT safety regulations of traffic cameras on primary highways.”

This is one of four cases before the Court this term regarding automated traffic-enforcement cameras. A second case, Reuven Weizberg, et al., appellees v. City of Des Moines, appellant, and Gatso USA, Inc., appellee, will be submitted to the Court on April 10 without oral argument. That class-action suit is a due-process challenge to the city’s method of prosecuting speeding violations using automated traffic cameras.

Two cases were submitted to the Court in September – City of Cedar Rapids v. Leaf, and Behm, et al. v. City of Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA. Among the issues raised in these two appeals: Did the city unconstitutionally delegate core police functions to a private contractor to install and operate the speed cameras?


“Supermajority” Bill Could Change the Outcome of State Constitutional Questions before the Iowa Supreme Court

By: Rox Laird on March 20th, 2018

A bill passed by the Iowa Senate (S.F. 2282) would block the Iowa Supreme Court from declaring a State statute unconstitutional if the decision is not supported by at least five justices of the seven-member Court.

Although the bill failed to make it out of committee in the House by Friday’s deadline, legislative leaders could still bring it to the floor for consideration this session.

A proponent of the bill, Sen. Julian Garrett, an Indianola Republican, says it is wrong that under the current majority requirement a state law approved by majorities of the House and Senate and signed by the governor can be overturned by four justices of the Iowa Supreme Court.

“This is a bill that tries to make a small step to address that issue,” he said during the Senate debate. “You have to persuade five judges instead of four that a law is unconstitutional.”

The “supermajority” requirement, however, raises constitutional questions regarding the boundary between the legislative and judicial branches of government, according to two constitutional scholars.

“It seems like a constitutional non-starter to me,” University of Iowa law professor Todd Pettys told On Brief last week. The U.S. Supreme Court would not honor a bill from Congress that required a supermajority, Pettys said, and the same separation-of-powers principles apply to state and federal courts.

Mark Kende, director of the Constitutional Law Center and at Drake Law School and who holds the James Madison Chair in Constitutional Law, agreed:  “I believe this is a dangerous step to undermine the role of the judiciary interpreting the Constitution,” Kende said.

Article III Section 1 of the Iowa Constitution addresses the separation of powers:

“The powers of the government of Iowa shall be divided into three separate departments — the legislative, the executive, and the judicial: and no person charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any function appertaining to either of the others, except in cases hereinafter expressly directed or permitted.”

But Garrett said in an interview with On Brief he does not see the proposed legislation violating separation of powers.

“Our Iowa Constitution specifically says the Supreme Court can correct errors of law ‘under such restrictions as the General Assembly may, by law, prescribe’,” Garrett said, referring to Article V Section 4. Garrett said that provision enables the Legislature to require the votes of five justices of the Supreme Court to overturn a state statute. “The Constitution says we can pass the rules and regulations of the Court, so I don’t see why we can’t.”

Article V Section 10 authorizes the Legislature to increase or reduce the overall number of justices, suggesting that lawmakers also may dictate the number of justices required to strike down state statutes. But Pettys argues there is a qualitative difference between legislators establishing the size and jurisdiction of an appellate court and dictating the court’s internal rules for how it makes decisions.

Pettys likened the latter to legislators going into the chambers with the justices – where no one else is allowed – and saying, “We want you to have one more justice” in the majority or you can’t speak on this subject. “That’s just a pure naked power grab by the Legislature. It totally drains the judicial branch of government of its most important job, which is to decide what is structurally permissible” in writing state laws.

Constitutional amendment or legislation?

Two states – Nebraska and North Dakota – currently require supermajorities to strike down state statutes, but both were done by constitutional amendment during the progressive era a century ago, not by statute.

 “We could do it either way,” Garrett said, but he pointed out that amending the Iowa Constitutional is a lengthy process.

“The courts are not bashful about changing the Constitution, rather than allowing the people to do it through a constitutional amendment,” he said.

“I’m just trying to put a little bit of a damper on their propensity to change the meaning of the Constitution. You’ve heard this ‘living, breathing Constitution concept.’ It gives the Court the power to do whatever it wants. It’s a very clever theory that enables them to make the changes they want in the Constitution.”

What if a supermajority were already required in Iowa?

Though it does not happen often, the Iowa Supreme Court has held state statutes unconstitutional with a one-vote majority. What would have been the outcome of some recent decisions had a supermajority requirement been on the books?

For one, riverboat casinos might be taxed at a significantly lower rate than racetracks. The Iowa Supreme Court in Racing Association v. Fitzgerald (2002) struck down the statutory tax scheme that set different rates for different casinos. The Court, by a vote of 4-3, ruled unequal tax treatments violated the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions. (On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed regarding the federal Constitution but the Iowa Supreme Court subsequently stuck by its position based on its reading of the Iowa Constitution, this time with five justices in the majority.)

Juvenile offenders could face longer prison sentences in Iowa. Perhaps the most persistent 4-3 split on the current Iowa Supreme Court involves juvenile criminal sentences the Iowa Court has handed down in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions based on evidence that juvenile mental and emotional development is not the same as adults.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in 2014 State v. Lyle (2014) that, in the case of juveniles, one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum prison sentences prescribed by the Legislature violate the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Eighth Amendment. The Court in Lyle said a juvenile could be sentenced to a minimum prison term before being eligible for parole, but there must be a finding by a trial court that weighs a number of mitigating factors, including the offender’s age, family and home life, the nature of the crime and his or her potential for reform.

Additionally, undocumented immigrants living in Iowa could be prosecuted by the State for using forged documents to obtain employment. The Court, in State v. Martinez (2017), ruled 4-3 that such prosecutions by the State violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the State statute is pre-empted by federal immigration law.

“Court packing” in Iowa?

The size of the Iowa Supreme Court has changed a number of times over the past 180 years, beginning with three judges in the Territorial era and growing to nine before it was shrunk to seven by a 1998 statute at the same time the Iowa Court of Appeals was enlarged.

Thus, State legislators could increase the size of the Supreme Court in an effort to dilute the votes of justices whose opinions they dislike. That is what President Franklin Roosevelt sought to do in the famous, though short-lived, “court packing” scheme in 1937, which was roundly criticized by both parties.

“And to be clear,” Drake’s Kende noted in commenting to On Brief about the Iowa supermajority proposal, “I would have opposed FDR’s court packing scheme as well so my position is not partisan.”

Iowa Supreme Court preview: Is Iowa’s law protecting hog confinements from lawsuits unconstitutional?

By: Rox Laird on February 9th, 2018

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 12 in a case that could dramatically affect all legal disputes between rural residents and livestock confinement operators. The session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines to accommodate members of the public.

The justices will hear oral arguments in one case – Honomichl v. Valley View Swine – on whether an Iowa statute that gives livestock operations limited immunity from nuisance liability violates the inalienable rights clause in Article I, Section 1 of the Iowa Constitution.

A ruling striking down the statute could open the door to more lawsuits against confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across the state. The pork industry already faces numerous suits, according to the defendant-appellants, who say there have been as many as 15 individual nuisance suits pending at one time in nine Iowa counties involving hundreds of plaintiffs.

The lawsuit that led to this appeal was initially filed by 70 individual plaintiffs, subsequently divided into three groups by the trial court with designated “bellwether” plaintiffs representing each group. The plaintiff-appellees testified in depositions that odors from the nearly 10,000 hogs confined nearby prevent outdoor activities, such as cookouts or hanging out laundry, and cause headaches and nose and throat irritations.

The parties’ arguments are bolstered by two amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs filed with the Iowa Supreme Court, one in support of the defendant-appellants by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and one in support of the plaintiff-appellees by the Iowa Association for Justice, a trial lawyers group.

At the heart of the case is Iowa Code section 657.11, which says an animal-feeding operation “shall not be found to be a public or private nuisance” so long as it complies with State and federal laws and regulations. An exception is made for a confinement facility that both “unreasonably and for substantial periods of time” interferes with a person’s “comfortable use and enjoyment of the person’s life or property” and that fails to use “existing prudent generally accepted management practices reasonable for the operation.”

The defendants, who built hog-confinement buildings on two sites in Wapello County in 2013, appeal a ruling on pre-trial motions by Wapello County District Judge Annette Scieszinski that the immunity statute is unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs, who have lived in their homes since before the hog-confinement buildings were erected.

The Wapello County trial court’s ruling is based on a 2004 Iowa Supreme Court ruling, Gacke v. Pork Xtra, which found the immunity statute unconstitutional under the takings clause of the Iowa Constitution because it amounted to taking private property for the benefit of confinement operators without just compensation.

The Court in Gacke limited the holding as it applied to the plaintiffs in that suit based on their proximity to the hog facility, how long they had lived there, how much they had invested in their property and whether they received any direct benefits from the confinement facility.

The hog-confinement operators argue that the Wapello County District Court wrongly ruled that the statute likewise violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs in this case because the trial court did not base its ruling on a factual analysis specific to the Wapello County plaintiffs.

“The ruling purports to follow in the footsteps of the Gacke Court in holding the statute unconstitutional ‘as applied’ to plaintiffs,” they argue in a brief submitted to the Iowa Supreme Court. “However, unlike Gacke, the ruling is devoid of facts and analysis necessary to establish an ‘as applied’ challenge sufficient to overcome the presumption of validity afforded to section 657.11 and all statutes enacted by the General Assembly.”

The confinement operators urge the Court to affirm the constitutionality of section 657.11, which they argue strikes a proper balance between the rights of neighbors and farmers and is an appropriate use of the Legislature’s powers to protect a vital Iowa industry from being assaulted by lawsuits.

The neighboring residents, in a brief submitted to the Court, say the trial court reached the correct conclusion and they urge the Iowa Supreme Court to uphold it. But they urge the Court to go further and declare the statute unconstitutional on its face “because it unduly oppresses an individual’s right to use and enjoy property by denying her right to recover for an injury to the same.”

The Pork Producers and Iowa Farm Bureau, in their amicus brief, urge the Court to clarify Gacke to take into account more stringent regulations of animal-confinement operations that have been enacted since that decision was handed down 14 years ago.

“Because of the drastic changes in statutory and regulatory requirements for livestock facilities since the Gacke case,” the brief argues, “it is no longer workable or effective to compare plaintiffs in today’s nuisance cases to the Gackes in determining constitutionality of the statute because the Gacke facts would be impossible to repeat under the current statutory and regulatory requirements.”

Search ends at personal belongings in a targeted-warrant case, the Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on January 11th, 2018

Danielle Brown was one of five people in the bedroom of a house when a Des Moines police SWAT team swarmed in to execute a warrant naming a male occupant of the house to be searched for drugs and weapons. Brown was not named in the warrant but police searched her purse and found a small amount of marijuana inside.

She was subsequently convicted of possession of marijuana.

The Iowa Supreme Court Jan. 5 reversed a ruling of the Polk County District Court admitting evidence from the search of Brown’s purse, however, saying it violated the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In an opinion written by Justice Brent Appel joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht, the Court ruled that a person not named in a search warrant has an expectation of privacy for personal effects – such as a purse – that they effectively have in their possession.

Justice Thomas Waterman disagreed with the majority in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Edward Mansfield and Bruce Zager that argued for a clear rule giving police officers flexibility in executing search warrants in such situations.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police with a valid search warrant may search entire premises, including containers. But they may not search a person who is not named in the warrant who happens to be present during the search. Federal and states courts are divided, however, on the question of whether a visitor’s personal effects, such as a purse, may be searched.

Courts have used several tests to assess the legality of searches of visitors’ personal belongings, including whether the person has actual possession, say by wearing a coat or holding a briefcase or clutching a purse.

The Iowa Supreme Court majority rejected such a strict approach in this situation, however.

“A holding of this court that a visitor loses all reasonable expectations of privacy when visiting a premises by hanging a coat on a rack or placing a purse on a chair or on the floor, simply does not comport with reality,” Appel wrote. “A visitor who placed her purse on a sofa would be shocked to learn that her host, let alone government agents, was free to rummage around the purse looking for interesting or entertaining items while the visitor was in the other room.”

When Des Moines police were conducting the search, Brown was kneeling with her arms handcuffed behind her back, and her purse was on the floor nearby.

The majority said the legal theory of “constructive possession” should be applied in this case, which means that even though Brown was not holding the purse in her hands she was in “constructive, if not actual possession of the purse.” Thus, it was off limits to the police.

Writing for the three justices in dissent, however, Waterman said there were good reasons why Brown should have been covered by the search warrant.

When Des Moines police entered the bedroom at 5:45 a.m. Brown was smoking methamphetamine, Waterman pointed out, and she was “participating in an illegal activity directly related to the sale of methamphetamine, which was the reason for searching the house.”

Other courts, he said, rely on visitors’ perceived connection to the activity targeted by a warrant to uphold a search of the visitors’ personal effects.

He said the Iowa Supreme Court has traditionally preferred bright-line rules when police officers have to make quick decisions in balancing public safety and individual rights. “Such clarity and ease of application is especially important during chaotic police raids on a drug den,” he said.

In short, Waterman wrote: “In my view, the search of Brown’s purse was constitutional.”

Oral argument recap: Justices hear the case for and against prosecuting a child as an adult

By: Rox Laird on November 16th, 2017

Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court grappled in an oral argument Tuesday with the question of prosecuting a 13-year-old as an adult under Iowa’s youthful offender statute.

Noah Crooks, who was convicted of killing his mother when he was 13, was waived by a Mitchell County District judge to be tried in adult court as a youthful offender. Crooks was held at the State Training School until he was 18, at which point he returned to District Court where he was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. (Read our preview of State v. Noah Crooks here.)

Crooks’ appellate counsel, Assistant State Appellate Defender Martha Lucey, argued that the youthful offender statute does not allow for prosecution of an offender as young as 13. And if it does, it would violate the Iowa Constitution’s equivalent of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Brent Appel questioned Lucey’s reading of the statute. “You interpret that to mean there is a 14-year-old floor, but the statute doesn’t say that.”

Lucey: “It doesn’t set a ceiling, either. We know it is 18 because you don’t have to waive at age 18. Does it mean birth to 18? Would we allow a small child to be punished as an adult?”

Justice Thomas Waterman wondered how youthful offenders are treated differently than juveniles who are sent directly to be tried in adult court.

Lucey explained that youthful offenders are treated as juvenile offenders until they reach age 18, at which point they return to adult court for sentencing, which could range from discharge or a deferred sentence to prison.

Justice Bruce Zager: “It seems to me that is a logical and reasonable way to handle it. A child gets the benefit of the juvenile system, and then is looked at again at age 18.”

Justice Edward Mansfield echoed Zager’s opinion: “This case is consistent with our juvenile jurisprudence. What is wrong with that?”

Lucey: The question is how much a child of 13 benefits from the delay. In this case, she said, Crooks “did really well” while at the Training School.

Zager said that was not a unanimous opinion, however, noting that Crooks’ father testified that Noah hadn’t come to grips with murdering his mother. “That would give me some pause,” Zager said. “That’s what the District Court indicated at sentencing.”

Arguing the case for the State, Assistant Attorney General Bridget Chambers disagreed with the appellant’s premise: Waiver of a youthful offender into adult court is not punishment, she said, and if it were, it surely is not cruel and unusual.

Appel again questioned the under-age-15 Iowa Code language: Is there no floor? Can a child of any age be prosecuted in adult court?

Chambers: “I struggle to see how it is ambiguous,” she said. The floor is provided by other things, including mens rea (that is, the “guilty mind”), and the prosecutor’s discretion not to prosecute below a certain age.

Waterman asked if the sentencing factors required for juveniles under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama were applied in the Crooks sentencing.

Chambers: The Miller factors were not applied because no minimum sentence was contemplated.

Waterman: “It was still a very individualized hearing, right?”

Chambers: “It was very individualized.”

Appel observed that the sentencing judge thought prison would be beneficial and that Crooks would benefit from services provided in prison. And, there is the potential for early release if he showed maturity. On the other hand, Appel noted that research on juvenile sentencing suggests that it could be cruel and unusual punishment if an offender is sentenced to prison as a juvenile and does not get services.

In her rebuttal argument, Lucey weighed the option of sending youthful offenders to prison or to some alternative where they may receive help transitioning to society: “Are we looking at rehabilitation or retribution?”

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.