State v. Canas, 98-1030.

Citation597 N.W.2d 488
Decision Date03 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-1030.,98-1030.
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Jose E. CANAS, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

Linda Del Gallo, State Appellate Defender, and David Arthur Adams, Assistant State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Linda J. Hines and James Kivi, Assistant Attorneys General, Richard R. Phillips, County Attorney, and Kerrie Snyder and Alan Ostergren, Assistant County Attorneys, for appellee.

Considered by HARRIS, P.J., and LARSON, CARTER, SNELL, and TERNUS, JJ.

SNELL, Justice.

The defendant appeals from his convictions for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (second or subsequent offense) in violation of Iowa Code sections 124.401(1)(b)(7) and 124 .411 (1997), a drug tax stamp violation in violation of Iowa Code sections 453.B.1, .3, .7 and .12, introduction of a controlled substance into a detention facility in violation of Iowa Code section 719.8 and assault resulting in bodily injury in violation of Iowa Code sections 708.1 and 708.2(2). He challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress and the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction for assault causing injury, and he claims his trial counsel was ineffective. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for a new trial on the count of possession with intent to deliver.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

The defendant, Jose E. Canas, was the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant due to his failure to appear in court. Officers Jirak and Havemann and Lieutenant Ryan learned the defendant might be at a local motel and went there to execute the warrant. They observed the defendant standing in the doorway to his room. When the defendant saw them, he entered his room and slammed the door. The officers knocked on the door, and when the defendant opened it, they pulled him outside where they handcuffed and arrested him. Nothing in the record indicates the defendant was ever allowed to reenter the room.

Sometime after the defendant had been arrested, Officer Jirak and Lieutenant Ryan each entered the motel room. The record does not indicate for what purpose they entered, what they did therein, or what they might have seen.

Officer Havemann also entered the defendant's motel room and searched it. He testified the defendant was not in the room at the time of the search.1 An unzipped red-nylon bag was found on a nightstand approximately four to six feet from the doorway. Inside the bag Officer Havemann found a box of plastic sandwich baggies, a cigarette lighter, two straws and a hollow pen. There was testimony indicating these were items associated with drug use. Officer Havemann testified the contents of the bag were not readily apparent and he had to search through it to ascertain its contents.

After the defendant arrived at the jail, he was directed to take a shower. A jailer noticed the defendant delayed in removing his underwear and kept them with him while he showered. When the jailer asked to see the underwear, the defendant shoved him against a wall. During a struggle with the defendant, the jailer observed him trying to get something out of the underwear to throw in the toilet. Immediately after the incident, two plastic bags containing a white powdery substance were found on the floor of the shower. The larger bag contained a golf ball size quantity of methamphetamine which weighed 13.58 grams. The smaller packet contained .25 grams of methamphetamine.

The defendant was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (second or subsequent offense), a drug tax stamp violation, introduction of a controlled substance into a detention facility, and assault resulting in bodily injury. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his motel room. The motion was denied.

At trial it was disclosed that Canas served as an informant for the Muscatine County Drug Task Force. Canas testified that as part of his work as a confidential informant he had been trying to arrange a buy with a big dealer ("Mr. X"). He claimed that before he could arrange a controlled buy, he had unexpectedly been paid a visit from two of Mr. X's men and they had left the two packets of methamphetamine with him. Before the defendant could contact the authorities at the drug task force, he was arrested on the outstanding warrant and the drugs were found in his possession. He testified he had no intent to sell them.

The jury found the defendant guilty of all four charges. The defendant now appeals.

II. Motion to Suppress
A. Scope of Review

The defendant challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. We review this constitutional question de novo in light of the totality of the circumstances. State v. Cadotte, 542 N.W.2d 834, 836 (Iowa 1996). We are bound by findings of fact which underlie the district court's ruling if they are supported by substantial evidence. Id. In reviewing the district court's ruling, we consider both the evidence presented at the suppression hearing and that introduced at trial. See State v. Breuer, 577 N.W.2d 41, 44 (Iowa 1998)


B. Search Incident to Arrest

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution protect individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. State v. Cook, 530 N.W.2d 728, 731 (Iowa 1995). Searches and seizures conducted without prior approval by a judge or magistrate are per se unreasonable unless they fall within one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. Id. The State has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a warrantless search falls within one of the exceptions. Cadotte, 542 N.W.2d at 836.

The State alleges the search of the defendant's bag in the motel room constituted a valid search incident to a lawful arrest. The United States Supreme Court has previously recognized there is ample justification for the search of an arrestee's person and the area within his or her immediate control. Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 763, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 2040 23 L.Ed.2d 685, 694 (1969). The purpose of such a search is to prevent the arrestee from destroying evidence or gaining possession of a weapon which could be used to resist arrest or effect an escape. See id. A search incident to an arrest must be substantially contemporaneous with the arrest and confined to the immediate vicinity of the arrest. Vale v. Louisiana, 399 U.S. 30, 33, 90 S.Ct. 1969, 1971, 26 L.Ed.2d 409, 413 (1970). If a search of a residence is to be upheld as a search incident to an arrest, that arrest must take place within the residence, not somewhere outside. See id. We have previously upheld searches incident to an arrest when the arrestees remained within the immediate vicinity of the area to be searched. See State v. Shane, 255 N.W.2d 324, 327 (Iowa 1977)

(motel room); State v. Canada, 212 N.W.2d 430, 432 (Iowa 1973) (hotel room). In both Shane and Canada the defendants were physically present in the room while it was being searched.

The critical distinction presented in this case is the fact that the defendant was not in the motel room at the time of the search. The defendant's bag on the nightstand was no longer an "area into which an arrestee might reach in order to grab a weapon or evidentiary items." Chimel, 395 U.S. at 763, 89 S.Ct. at 2040, 23 L.Ed.2d at 694. The South Carolina Supreme Court similarly recognized that the search of a motel room after its occupants had exited the room and been taken away could not be justified as a search incident to an arrest. See State v. Brown, 289 S.C. 581, 347 S.E.2d 882, 885 (1986)

. We reject the State's argument that the warrantless search of the bag could be justified as a search incident to an arrest.2

C. Emergency Aid Exception

The State alternatively argues that the search of the defendant's motel room falls within the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement. It contends Officer Havemann searched the room because he knew the defendant used drugs and he was concerned that motel cleaning staff might enter the room and come into contact with controlled substances or needles.

Our previous cases have recognized that an emergency situation may give rise to exigent circumstances sufficient to support a warrantless search. See, e.g., State v. Carlson, 548 N.W.2d 138, 143 (Iowa 1996)

; State v. Emerson, 375 N.W.2d 256, 259 (Iowa 1985). Yet in both Carlson and Emerson the police were responding to the reasonable belief that an emergency existed and a warrantless search of a residence was necessary to render aid and assistance to a person located therein. In this case there was no similar belief that someone remained in the motel room who needed emergency aid. The mere suspicion that drugs or drug paraphernalia might be present could not justify a warrantless search under the emergency aid exception.

D. Harmless Error

The State contends that even if the search of the contents of the defendant's bag was unconstitutional, the admission of the evidence constituted a harmless error. Most constitutional errors do not automatically require the reversal of a conviction if the error is harmless. State v. Hensley, 534 N.W.2d 379, 382 (Iowa 1995). The State must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that an error in the admission of evidence obtained from an unlawful search was harmless. See State v. Baldwin, 396 N.W.2d 192, 197 (Iowa 1986)

. A reviewing court must consider more than just the amount of untainted evidence against the defendant, it must also weigh that evidence against the probative force of the tainted evidence. See State v. Jefferson, 574 N.W.2d 268, 275 (Iowa 1997).

There are two steps in the harmless error analysis. We first consider all of the evidence the jury actually considered, and then we weigh the probative force of that evidence against the erroneously admitted evidence. See id. The inquiry is not whether in a trial that occurred...

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