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Iowa Supreme Court: Warrantless Entry Into Home for Misdemeanor Arrest Violates Both U.S. and Iowa Constitutions and Requires Suppression of Evidence

by Mark Wilson 

The Supreme Court of Iowa held that the warrantless entry of an apartment to arrest the occupant on a misdemeanor charge was unlawful, requiring suppression of evidence of cocaine possession obtained from the unlawful entry.

Ames, Iowa, police officer Jamie Miller was dispatched to a fourplex apartment to investigate an alleged municipal noise ordinance violation, on July 5, 2019. Standing in a common hallway, Miller could hear noise but did not have sound level measuring equipment necessary to determine if it violated the ordinance. He later admitted, however, that the noise level required to violate the ordinance is “very high.”

Millerknockedontheapartmentdooranyway,andawomanopenedthedoorbetween6-12inchesina guarded fashion. Miller identified himself as a police officer, explained why he was there, and asked the woman for her name and identification.

The woman initially refused to provide her name, stating that she did not have to do so. Miller repeated his request several more times until she eventually told him that her name was “Ebony.” Miller then demanded her complete name. She resisted, stating several times that she wanted her lawyer called.

Miller prevented the woman from shutting her apartment door, by putting his left hand on the doorway and his foot six inches across the threshold. Bodycam video shows the woman asking Millersixtimes to remove his foot from her door, but he refused to do so. He later admitted that he had not yet determined that she had provided a false name, possessed weapons, or was engaged in drug violations when he blocked her from shutting her door.

When the woman asked to see his warrant, Miller claimed he did not need a search warrant for her name. After Millerprevented the woman from closing the door, she glanced at hisnametagthentoldhimhernamewasDestinyMiller.But no “DestinyMiller” with the date of birth she gave was found in the police database. Officer Adam McPherson then discovered her actual name during a computer search of the apartment’s utility records.

When Miller confronted her, the woman admitted that her real name was Edna Jean Wilson. Miller then decided to arrest her for obstruction of justice for telling him that her name was Destiny Miller. He advised Wilson that she was under arrest and entered the apartment to handcuff her. AsMiller grabbed her left arm and McPherson approached, Wilson quickly stretched out her free hand, tossing away a small vial. After she wash and cuffed, Wilsontwisted, making it difficult for officers to secure her arrest.

OnceWilsonwasincustody, the officers saw a white powdery residue and small vial on the floor. They also foundamarijuana jointand twogramsof marijuanainabag. AfterarrestingWilson, McPherson applied for a search warrant to seize the white powdery substance, vial, and marijuana, based on his observations while inside the apartment. The white substance and vial tested positive for .6grams of cocaine salt.

Wilson was charged with interference with official acts causing bodily injury, marijuana possession, and cocaine possession. She moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers made an illegal warrantless entry into her home in violation of both the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution, then used the information obtained from the illegal entry to obtain a search warrant. The district court denied the motion, concluding that United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38 (1976) (holding a person in an open doorway when police observe the person can’t claim a reasonable expectation of privacy,) precludes Wilson from claiming a reasonable expectation of privacy in the entryway of her apartment. The district court also ruled that by providing a false name to the police, Wilson committed a crime in their presence, so they had a right to arrest her. 

Wilson then submitted to a bench trial, and the State reduced the interference charge to a simple misdemeanor and dismissed the marijuana possession charge. The trial court ultimately found Wilson guilty of the interference and cocaine possession charges. The court of appeals affirmed, and Wilson appealed.

The Court noted that warrantless police intrusion into the home strikes at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. See Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013). “[A]ny physical invasion of the structure of the home, ‘by even a fraction of an inch’ [i]s too much.” Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001) (quoting Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505 (1961)).

In Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740 (1984), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the warrantless entry into the home of a person who committed a misdemeanor was impermissible. The question before the Welsh Court was whether the warrantless entry and seizure was justified by exigent circumstances. The Court said no, adding that exigent circumstances aren’t likely to be present where minor crimes are involved. The Welsh Court instructed: “application of the exigent-circumstances exception in the context of a home entry should rarely be sanctioned when there is probable cause to believe that only a minor offense … has been committed.” 

In Lange v. California, 141 S. Ct. 2011 (2021), the defendant drove for four seconds into his driveway and entered his attached garage after a patrol officer signaled for him to pull over for playing loud music and honking his horn a few times. The officer followed the defendant into his garage and place him under arrest. The State argued that the Fourth Amendment always allows police to enter a home to arrest a fleeing misdemeanor defendant. The Lange Court rejected that argument, explaining that the exigent-circumstances exception is for situations that present a “compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant.” Quoting Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013).

The Court in the present case commented on “the presence of misdemeanor crimes in every aspect of the American life” and stated that given “the ubiquity of misdemeanor offenses, a low bar to warrantless entry of the home would give police discretion that resembles a general warrant and is subject to arbitrary enforcement.”

It reversed court of appeals, concluding that “Santanaisnotapplicableinthis case,”findingthattheofficersviolatedtheFourth Amendment because “Wilson had a constitutional interest in protecting her home under the facts presented.” Unlike the defendant in Santana who was standing on the threshold of her home and thus in a “public” place, Wilson was completely inside her home and only opened the door a crack in an effort to protect her privacy. (See opinion for citations to cases from various U.S. Courts of Appeals coming to the same conclusion on similar facts.)

In addition to violating Wilson’s reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment, the Court concluded that the police also acted unlawfully by physically trespassing into her home without a warrant in violation of article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. See State v. Wright, 961 N.W.2d 396 (Iowa 2021); see also Kyllo.

The Court explained that the police committed two unlawful invasions of Wilson’s home: (1) putting hand on door and foot past the threshold and (2) entering the home to arrest Wilson.

The Court ruled that having probable cause that Wilsoncommitted minor crimes was insufficient to justify a warrantless search of her home. See Welsh and Lange. The real so was no hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, given that Wilson committed only a simple misdemeanor, according to the Court.

TheCourtfinallyconcludedthatthe“new crime exception” to the exclusionary rule doesnotapplybecauseWilsonthrewthevialofcocaineonthefloorbeforeresistingarrest. See State v. Dawdy, 533 N.W.2d 551 (Iowa 1995) (“Even though an initial arrest is unlawful, a defendant has no right to resist the arrest. If the defendant does so, probable cause exists for a second arrest for resisting. A search incident to the second arrest is lawful.”). As such, the officers saw her throw the cocaine before she committed “the new crime of interference with official acts.”

The Court ultimately affirmed Wilson’s interference with official acts conviction but vacate her cocaine possession conviction.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. See: State v. Wilson, 968 N.W.2d 903 (Iowa 2020). 

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State v. Wilson

 

 

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