State v. Ochoa

Decision Date17 December 2010
Docket NumberNo. 08-0412.,08-0412.
Citation792 N.W.2d 260
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellant, v. James Maximiliano OCHOA, Appellee.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Mary E. Tabor (until withdrawal), Cristen O. Douglass (until withdrawal), and then Thomas S. Tauber, Assistant Attorneys General, Karla J. Baumler, Student Legal Extern, Michael J. Walton, County Attorney, and Alan R. Havercamp, Assistant County Attorney, for appellant.

Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Stephan J. Japuntich, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellee.

APPEL, Justice.

In this case, we are called upon to determine the extent to which persons on parole are entitled to constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Iowa Constitution. Here, a police officer conducted a warrantless, suspicionless search of a parolee's motel room. The police officer conducting the search believed that standard "search condition" language in Iowa parole agreements authorized law enforcement officials to search the residence of a parolee at any time and for any reason. After the warrantless, suspicionless search produced drugs and drug paraphernalia, the parolee was arrested and charged with various drug-related crimes. The district court granted the parolee's motion to suppress the evidence. On discretionary review, the court of appeals reversed. For the reasons expressed below, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. Factual and Procedural History.

Bettendorf police officer Jereme Hatler was conducting a routine business check at The Traveler, a motel located in a high-crime area in Bettendorf, Iowa. Hatler learned from the desk clerk that the defendant James Ochoa was staying in room 32. After conducting a computer check, Hatler determined that Ochoa was on parole arising from his conviction for conspiracy to commit a forcible felony. Hatler understood that persons on parole in Iowa were required to agree to be subject to search at any time, for any reason. Operating on this understanding, Hatler called Ochoa's room and asked Ochoa to step out. After a brief conversation, Hatler patted downOchoa and asked if he could search Ochoa's motel room. According to Hatler:

[Ochoa] initially said no and so I went ahead and patted him down and asked him if I could go ahead and search the room and he kind of—he said to me, well, you're going to anyway and I said, yes, I am and I proceeded to.

Hatler then entered the room and discovered a crack pipe, drug paraphernalia, a rocklike substance testing positive for cocaine, and prescription drugs not prescribed for Ochoa.

The State charged Ochoa with possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of a prescription drug. Ochoa filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his motel room on both state and federal constitutional grounds. At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Hatler testified that he had no particular reason or cause for suspicion that illegal activity was occurring at the motel other than its location in a high-crime neighborhood, he had no particularized suspicion of unlawful activity with regard to Ochoa or room 32, and he would not have conducted the search "had we not been given the training we were given" (indicating that a parolee was subject to search at any time for any reason).

The State also introduced into evidence Ochoa's parole agreement. The parole agreement warned that "[f]ailure to comply with the terms and conditions may result in the revocation of your parole." The parole agreement then stated that "[t]he following are the standard terms and conditions that you agree to comply with while you are on parole." Listed as a standard term and condition of parole was:

I will submit my person, property, place of residence, vehicle, personal effects to search at any time, with or without a search warrant, warrant of arrest or reasonable cause by any parole officer or law enforcement officer.

The following colloquy thereafter occurred between the court and counsel for the State:

Q: [W]hen I read these parole agreements, it doesn't take away his right to refuse, but he's being put on notice if he refuses a search or refuses to consent to a search, it could be a parole violation. Is that how you are reading it or am I way off the mark to read it that way? A: No, that's right.
Q: And you're arguing he consented, if that is true, or do you believe that he did consent in this situation? Because if I go in that direction, that answer is going to be important to me. I'm not asking for further argument, I am just asking the question. A: I think when faced with the realization that the officer knew the contents of the parole agreement, that he did not refuse or protest either the search of his person or his room.

The district court granted Ochoa's motion to suppress. The court observed that the search was based on an inaccurate understanding of the parole agreement and its relationship to constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. As conceded by the State, the district court stated that the parole agreement did not amount to a broad blanket waiver of constitutional rights but instead only a condition that, if violated, could give rise to a parole violation. While acknowledging recent United States Supreme Court Fourth Amendment cases allowing warrantless searches of parolees and probationers, the district court distinguished these cases because they involved reasonable suspicion or a statute that explicitly curtailed a parolee's Fourth Amendment rights. See Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 126 S.Ct. 2193, 165 L.Ed.2d 250 (2006) (permitting warrantless searches of parolees); United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112, 122 S.Ct. 587, 151 L.Ed.2d 497 (2001) (permitting warrantless searches of probationers). Instead, the district court relied upon this court's decision in State v. Cullison, 173 N.W.2d 533, 538-39 (Iowa 1970), which held that a parolee did not surrender his Fourth Amendment rights by virtue of his status as a parolee. The district court further found that Ochoa had not voluntarily consented to the search.

This court granted the State's application for interlocutory appeal and transferred the case to the court of appeals. On appeal, the State did not contend that Ochoa consented to the search at the doorway of his motel room. Instead, the State shifted positions and asserted that Ochoa consented in advance to the search by executing the parole agreement, a position abandoned by the State at the suppression hearing.

The court of appeals reversed the district court. Citing Samson, the court of appeals noted that parolees generally have a lower expectation of privacy than members of society at large. The court further emphasized that by signing his parole agreement, Ochoa was aware of his diminished Fourth Amendment protections. The court of appeals further held that in signing the parole agreement, Ochoa consented to the search. We granted further review and now vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the district court.

II. Standard of Review.

Because the motion to suppress was based on a deprivation of the defendant's constitutional right against unlawful searches, this court's review is de novo. State v. Kreps, 650 N.W.2d 636, 640 (Iowa 2002). In conducting the de novo review, the court "make[s] an independent evaluation [based on] the totality of the circumstances as shown by the entire record." State v. Breuer, 577 N.W.2d 41, 44 (Iowa 1998).

III. Relationship Between Federal and State Search and Seizure Law.

As the United States Supreme Court has emphasized, "It is fundamental that state courts be left free and unfettered by us in interpreting their state constitutions." Minnesota v. Nat'l Tea Co., 309 U.S. 551, 557, 60 S.Ct. 676, 679, 84 L.Ed. 920, 924 (1940). The independence of state courts in interpreting their own state constitutions in a fashion different than federal law has taken a firm root in state courts generally.1See, e.g., State v. Lowry, 295 Or. 337, 667 P.2d 996, 999-1001 (1983); Commonwealth v. Kilgore, 719 A.2d 754, 757 (Pa.Super.Ct.1998); State v. Jewett, 146 Vt. 221, 500 A.2d 233, 238-39 (1985). In addition to the growing body of state court opinions, there is a large body of literature exploring independent approaches employed by state courts to constitutional provisions that includes a vast number of law review articles 2 and a numberof treatises and monographs.3

Although many state constitutions have search and seizure language that is virtually identical to the Fourth Amendment, the movement toward independent state constitutional adjudication has had dramatic impact on the law of search and seizure. As of 2007, at least thirty-three state supreme courts have found greater protections for individual rights in the search and seizure context under state constitutional provisions than under the Fourth Amendment, and an additional seven states recognize their power to do so. See Michael J. Gorman, Survey: State Search and Seizure Analogs, 77 Miss. L.J. 417, 418-64 (2007); see also Stephen E. Henderson, Learning from All Fifty States: How to Apply the Fourth Amendment and Its State Analogs to Protect Third Party Information from Unreasonable Search, 55 Cath. U.L.Rev. 373, 393-412 (2006).

This court has to date generally developed a body of independent state constitutional law in the search and seizure area slowly and cautiously. In some cases, the court has simply treated the claim as a "search and seizure" claim without identifying whether an argument has been presented under the Fourth Amendment or article I, section 8. See, e.g., State v. Blackman, 346 N.W.2d 12, 14-15 (Iowa 1984); State v. Luloff, 325 N.W.2d 103, 105-06 (Iowa 1982). In other cases, it appears that the parties raised only a Fourth Amendment claim and not a claim under the Iowa Constitution. See, e.g., State v. Washburne, 574...

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