Friday, February 03, 2006

Fresh Law

New cases are up for the Iowa Court of Appeals and the Iowa Supreme Court. Some things that caught my eye:

STATE V. HEILIGER appeals a conviction of OWI second, alleging improper denial of a motion to suppress evidence from the traffic stop, due to an insufficient basis for the stop. The facts:
At approximately 8:30 p.m. on May 20, 2004, Sioux County Deputy Sheriff Jason Bergsma was traveling south in his patrol car on Highway 60 in rural Sioux County when he observed a vehicle stop at an intersection and then proceed across Highway 60 from a county blacktop onto a gravel road . . . at a speed of ten to fifteen miles per hour. Bergsma believed the vehicle’s rate of speed was slower than most people drive at that location, but he observed no traffic violations and did not follow the vehicle.

Deputy Bergsma continued driving on Highway 60 for a few minutes and then turned off the highway. After making several turns, Deputy Bergsma came over a hill and stopped at an intersection. From that location, he observed the same vehicle parked in a farm driveway approximately one-half mile north . . . The deputy watched the vehicle for approximately thirty seconds. No one got out of the car while he was watching it, and he could not see what the driver was doing inside the vehicle. The deputy then drove his patrol car toward the parked vehicle. As he did so, the vehicle backed out of the driveway and traveled in Bergsma’s direction. Deputy Bergsma turned his patrol car around and followed the vehicle. He also ran the vehicle’s license plates and determined that the vehicle was registered to Lisa Heiliger, who resided in a nearby town. The deputy assumed that Heiliger was driving the car and found it “kind of unusual” that she was parked in the driveway of a farm field.

Bergsma followed Heiliger’s vehicle for two and one-half miles on the gravel road. During this time, the vehicle was traveling in a straight line at a reasonable speed. Deputy Bergsma decided to stop the vehicle because he believed it was being driven too close to the ditch. He activated his emergency lights, and the vehicle pulled over. After the stop, Heiliger failed field sobriety tests and was arrested for OWI.
The State argued that the stop was proper under the community caretaking function, which allows law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle without having witnessed a traffic violation or any other criminal activity if the stop is in the interest of public safety. The standard for that basis is “whether the facts available to the officer at the time of the stop would lead a reasonable person to believe that the action taken by the officer was appropriate.” The State argued that it met the test because the officer was concerned about the proximity of the defendant's car to the ditch, as she'd driven for two and one-half miles within one to two feet of the same line of travel near the edge of the road next to the ditch. They also argued that it was "kind of unusual" she'd been parked in the driveway of a farm field. The Court of Appeals did not find this persuasive:
"The record reveals Heiliger’s speed did not fluctuate before she was stopped. Deputy Bergsma testified that her speed of thirty miles per hour was appropriate for the gravel road on which she was driving. Heiliger drove for two and one-half miles in a straight line of travel. She did not weave within her lane or cross the centerline. Her vehicle never touched the vegetation on the edge of the road during the time that the deputy followed her. A video of the actual moment of the stop shows Heiliger driving in an appropriate manner in the right lane of the gravel road before pulling over to the edge of the road in response to Deputy Bergsma’s emergency lights. The record reveals no activity at the time Heiliger was parked in the farm driveway that indicated Heiliger was engaged in criminal activity or needed any kind of assistance.

We conclude the evidence we have just described does not support a finding that Deputy Bergsma had reasonable suspicion to stop Heiliger’s vehicle. We also conclude that the record reveals no community caretaking justification for stopping her vehicle. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s denial of Heiliger’s motion to suppress and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
Obligatory blog commentary: The car was 2 feet from the ditch. Okay, so? Last I checked, that was a valid part of the road to drive on, and there are a bunch of people who drive on that part of the lane. Actually, those people scare me less than the ones who hug the centerline. And parking in a farm field driveway is not all that unusual in the country, I see people do it all the time when they're looking to turn around, make a cell call, or if they own the field and they're doing a visual check of the fences. It was 8:30 in May, not 2:00 am., and the sun hadn't even set yet. I can't figure out what caught his attention here.

STATE V. GREENE discusses whether "shards are made of sheet steel, approximately three-quarters of an inch wide at their base and three inches long, tapered to a razor- sharp point" are a dangerous weapon under the Iowa Code that could trigger the D-felony enhancement prong of the stalking statute, thus taking the crime out of the misdemeanor category. The facts:
Greene and Kathy Miller lived together for a period of time in Greene’s home. When the relationship soured and Kathy moved out, Greene threatened to “do something” if Miller refused to reconcile. Kathy’s house and car were spray painted with graffiti, and personal effects she had left at Greene’s house began to appear, damaged, at various places around town. A support post for Kathy’s hammock was cut off, apparently with a chainsaw. Greene sent harassing letters to Kathy and to members of her family and friends. A rock was thrown through a window at her home, and a dead skunk was thrown into her home. Greene obtained a restraining order against Kathy, claiming, falsely, that she had harassed him. Metal signs were posted around the community bearing derogatory comments about Kathy. A search of Greene’s home revealed a chainsaw, mail addressed to Kathy, apparently stolen from her mailbox, and other items.

Most significant among the evidence presented at the trial were steel shards that had been impaled in Kathy’s car tires and those of her parents’ tires as well. The shards are made of sheet steel, approximately three-quarters of an inch wide at their base and three inches long, tapered to a razor- sharp point. The shards are welded to steel bases to keep them upright. These shards had been propped up against the tires to flatten them as the cars were moved. As would be expected, the tires went flat almost immediately. The components of the shards were consistent with sheet steel available at Greene’s place of employment.
The stalking statute is found in Iowa Code Section 708.11:
2. A person commits stalking when all of the following occur:
a. The person purposefully engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily injury to, or the death of, that specific person or a member of the specific person's immediate family.

b. The person has knowledge or should have knowledge that the specific person will be placed in reasonable fear of bodily injury to, or the death of, that specific person or a member of the specific person's immediate family by the course of conduct.

c. The person's course of conduct induces fear in the specific person of bodily injury to, or the death of, the specific person or a member of the specific person's immediate family.
Basic stalking is an aggravated misdemeanor for a first offense, a D felony for a second offense, and a C felony for a third offense. However, there's a provision in the code for an enhancement to a D felony even on a first offense:
3. b. A person who commits stalking in violation of this section commits a class "D" felony if any of the following apply:
(1) The person commits stalking while subject to restrictions contained in a criminal or civil protective order or injunction, or any other court order which prohibits contact between the person and the victim, or while subject to restrictions contained in a criminal or civil protective order or injunction or other court order which prohibits contact between the person and another person against whom the person has committed a public offense.

(2) The person commits stalking while in possession of a dangerous weapon, as defined in section 702.7.

(3) The person commits stalking by directing a course of conduct at a specific person who is under eighteen years of age.
The definition of a dangerous weapon under 702.7 states:
A "dangerous weapon" is any instrument or device designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury upon a human being or animal, and which is capable of inflicting death upon a human being when used in the manner for which it was designed. Additionally, any instrument or device of any sort whatsoever which is actually used in such a manner as to indicate that the defendant intends to inflict death or serious injury upon the other, and which, when so used, is capable of inflicting death upon a human being, is a dangerous weapon. Dangerous weapons include, but are not limited to, any offensive weapon, pistol, revolver, or other firearm, dagger, razor, stiletto, switchblade knife, or knife having a blade exceeding five inches in length.

The fighting issue in this case were whether the steel shards constituted a dangerous weapon as used. The State argued they were designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury because they were designed to ruin a car tire, and the intent to ruin a tire may imply an intent to kill or injure a person because the car might go out of control when the tires deflated. The Court found that too speculative:
"We believe this correlation is too speculative; under that reasoning, a lug wrench used to loosen car wheels could be considered a dangerous weapon because a wheel might fall off the car and cause it to crash. . . . If the shards were held in the defendant’s hand in a personal confrontation with a victim, there would be little doubt that they were dangerous weapons, as they would have been used in a manner indicating an intent to kill or injure. That is not the case here, however. While the record would support a finding of intent to damage property, it could not, as a matter of law, support a finding that the shards were designed to, or actually used with an intent to, inflict death or injury. Attributing such intent to the defendant under these facts would necessarily be based on conjecture.
The Court overturned the felony stalking conviction, affirmed the convictions for criminal mischief, and remanded for entry of a judgment of conviction on misdemeanor stalking and for resentencing on all convictions.

There were a bunch of other cases, so be sure to follow the links if you want all the latest.

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