State v. Childs

Citation898 N.W.2d 177
Decision Date30 June 2017
Docket NumberNo. 15-1578,15-1578
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Erik Milton CHILDS, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

Andrew C. Abbott of Abbott Law Office, P.C., Waterloo, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Thomas Bakke, Jean C. Pettinger, and Tyler J. Buller, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.

WATERMAN, Justice.

In this appeal, the defendant asks us to overturn State v. Comried , which interpreted Iowa Code section 321J.2(1)(c ) (2001) (operating while intoxicated (OWI) statute) to ban driving a motor vehicle with any detectible amount of a prohibited drug in one's body, regardless of whether the ability to drive was impaired. 693 N.W.2d 773, 778 (Iowa 2005). This defendant was stopped for driving over the centerline and admitted to smoking half of a joint and being under the influence of marijuana. A drug screen detected a nonimpairing metabolite of marijuana in his urine. He filed a motion to dismiss the OWI charge, arguing Comried is no longer good law because it relied on an Arizona decision and that state's supreme court later held an OWI conviction cannot be based solely on the presence of a nonimpairing metabolite. The district court disagreed, denied his motion to dismiss, and convicted him of violating section 321J.2. The court of appeals affirmed his conviction based on Comried , noting it "will not diverge from supreme court precedent." We granted the defendant's application for further review.

For the reasons explained below, we reaffirm Comried based on the plain meaning of the statutory text. The traffic stop and request for a urinalysis were lawful based on the defendant's erratic driving and his admitted recent drug use and impairment. The defendant raises no constitutional challenge to the statute's breadth, which permits a conviction based solely on the presence of a nonimpairing metabolite of marijuana in the driver's urine. Policy arguments that the statute is too harsh should be directed to the legislature.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

At 9:41 p.m. on June 20, 2014, Floyd County Deputy Sheriff Chad Weber was dispatched to Rockford City Park to respond to a report of narcotics activity involving a silver Hyundai Sonata. Upon arriving, he was approached by a man who reported smelling marijuana coming from a silver car and someone with dreadlocks driving off in that vehicle. Deputy Weber spotted a man with dreadlocks on foot and a silver Sonata backing out of a parking spot. Deputy Weber followed the silver Sonata. A check of the license plate number revealed the car's registration was expired. He observed both left-side tires of the car crossing the centerline. Deputy Weber pulled the car over and identified the driver as Erik Childs. Deputy Weber's report describes their encounter:

I approached the vehicle and told the driver he was being stopped for crossing the center line and expired registration. I asked the driver where he had been tonight and he stated he was at the park playing basketball with his son. I then told him that I had received a complaint of persons smoking marijuana in that area in a vehicle matching the description of this vehicle. I then asked the driver if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He said yes, in which I asked what substance and he said marijuana. I asked how much and he said half a joint. I asked how big the joint was and he held up his fingers showing me how big.

Deputy Weber also observed that when Childs "began to walk towards the back of the car [he] had his left hand on the vehicle to keep his balance." Childs performed poorly on several field tests for sobriety, missing heel-to-toe steps and counting the number thirteen twice. At the police station, Childs consented to a urine test, which revealed the presence of sixty-two nanograms per milliliter of a nonimpairing metabolite of marijuana, 11-nor-9-carboxy-delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (Carboxy-THC).1

Childs was charged with operating while intoxicated, first offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2(1)(a ) (2014) (operating while under the influence of drugs) and (c ) (operating a motor vehicle while "any amount of a controlled substance is present in the ... person's blood or urine"). Childs filed a motion to dismiss, arguing he could not be convicted under section 321J.2 based solely on the presence of a nonimpairing metabolite of marijuana in his urine. Childs urged the court to overrule Comried , which interpreted section 321J.2(1)(c ) (2001) to prohibit driving with "any amount" of a prohibited drug, that is, "any amount greater than zero." 693 N.W.2d at 778. Comried was a statutory-interpretation case that relied on an Arizona decision addressing the same issue under the Arizona DUI statute. See id. at 775–76 ; see also State v. Phillips , 178 Ariz. 368, 873 P.2d 706, 708 (Ct. App. 1994). However, a later Arizona decision held "drivers cannot be convicted of [DUI] based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana." State ex rel. Montgomery v. Harris , 234 Ariz. 343, 322 P.3d 160, 164 (2014). Childs argued that Phillips was no longer good law in Arizona, and accordingly, Comried should be overruled. Childs's written motion asked for the statute to be reinterpreted to omit nonimpairing metabolites. At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, Childs echoed this argument:

We are asking for the case to be dismissed. When the Defendant was tested after he was pulled over and sobriety testing, he was found positive for a non-impairing metabolite of marijuana. Many states have already ruled this nonimpairing metabolite is not a DUI; that only the impairing metabolite is.
[ Phillips ] is the case that we actually based our OWI or marijuana law on, we used that case, and it's cited throughout the case that decided that any amount of a controlled substance is an OWI in Iowa. They actually have distinguished that case, stating that now it is the only—Only the impairing metabolite that is a DUI in [ Harris ]. And based on the changes of law and based upon the fact that my client was not positive for the impairing metabolite, we are asking for the case to be dismissed.

The district court rejected this argument, stating,

Mr. Childs, again, your attorney is asking the Court to find that the law itself is unconstitutional; that there is no rational basis for the law here in Iowa.
I think that that's a very, very high standard. I mean, to say that something is unconstitutional means that there is no—no reason at all to have this law in place, basically. And again, I think it's an argument that I'm not going to agree with, but it's something that could be appealed and maybe the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals may find that they want to overturn this law and say that it's not constitutional, but I'm not willing to do that.
I think that there is a rational basis to just say any marijuana in your system, whether it impairs you or not, that's enough to say people shouldn't be driving with that in their system.
Again, I understand the rationale of what your attorney is saying is that there should be some test as to whether or not it made you a bad driver, but Iowa hasn't decided that that's necessary. So, until someone tells me—someone else above me tells me it's not constitutional, I'm going to find that it is.
So, I'm going to deny the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

The district court filed a written order denying the motion to dismiss. Childs filed a motion to suppress, contending Deputy Weber lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. The district court denied his motion, concluding the expired registration and driving over the centerline provided sufficient grounds. Childs ultimately was convicted on the minutes of testimony of operating while intoxicated, first offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2.2

Childs appealed, and we transferred the case to the court of appeals. Childs's appellate briefs raise no constitutional challenge to section 321J.2. Rather, Childs makes the same statutory-interpretation argument on appeal as he did in district courtComried should be overruled and the statute reinterpreted to omit nonimpairing metabolites. The court of appeals rejected his arguments and affirmed his conviction. We granted Childs's application for further review.

II. Standard of Review.

"On further review, we can review any or all of the issues raised on appeal or limit our review to just those issues brought to our attention by the application for further review." Papillon v. Jones , 892 N.W.2d 763, 769 (Iowa 2017) (quoting Woods v. Young , 732 N.W.2d 39, 40 (Iowa 2007) ). We elect to confine our review to Childs's statutory-interpretation claim. The court of appeals decision affirming the denial of his motion to suppress shall stand as the final decision on that claim.

"We review rulings on questions of statutory interpretation for correction of errors at law." State v. Iowa Dist. Ct. , 889 N.W.2d 467, 470 (Iowa 2017) (quoting State v. Olutunde , 878 N.W.2d 264, 266 (Iowa 2016) ). "Similarly, we review a ruling on a motion to dismiss for correction of errors at law." Ney v. Ney , 891 N.W.2d 446, 450 (Iowa 2017).

III. Analysis.

A. Preservation of Error. In district court and on appeal, Childs makes the same statutory-interpretation argument: that we should overrule Comried and hold section 321J.2 is not violated by the presence of nonimpairing metabolites of marijuana in a driver's urine. The district court described Childs's argument as a constitutional challenge in the colloquy at the hearing on the motion to dismiss and rejected it. Childs makes no constitutional claim on appeal. The State's appellate briefing acknowledges that Childs preserved error on his statutory challenge. We agree.

We do not construe the district court's discussion of the constitutionality of the statute to mean the court overlooked Childs's statutory-interpretation argument that the statute did...

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