UPDATES & ANALYSIS

2.22

Deputy’s misstatements in warrant application were not intentionally false, Iowa Supreme Court rules

by Rox Laird | February 22, 2024

A divided Iowa Supreme Court held that evidence procured via a warrant should not have been suppressed by a trial judge because any false statements by a deputy sheriff in support of the warrant were not intentionally made with reckless disregard for the truth.

Jesse Harbach was charged with driving while intoxicated after the truck he was driving skidded off the road and rolled over. The Delaware County District Court granted Harbach’s motion to suppress results of a blood sample taken from Harbach, concluding the deputy’s statements in support of the warrant were false and with those statements removed there was a lack of probable cause for issuing the warrant.

The Iowa Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision handed down Feb. 16 affirmed the Iowa Court of Appeals’ ruling reversing the district court order suppressing the evidence. Statements made in an affidavit by a law-enforcement officer seeking a warrant from a magistrate are presumed to be true, the Court said, and a defendant must show that facts in support of a warrant alleged to be false were made with reckless disregard for the truth or made with the intent of misleading the judge considering the warrant application.

Justice Dana Oxley wrote the opinion for the Court and was joined by Chief Justice Susan Christensen and Justices Christopher McDonald and David May. Justice Thomas Waterman filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Edward Mansfield and Matthew McDermott. Waterman argued the Court should have affirmed the trial court’s suppression of the evidence after he concluded the deputy made materially false statements and omissions.

Harbach claimed the deputy’s statement in support of a warrant that he smelled alcohol coming from Harbach after the accident was false based on the fact that the subsequent blood test results showed there was no alcohol in his blood. And he disputed the deputy’s observation that Harbach had bloodshot and watery eyes, which Harbach argued was a result of his injuries, not intoxication. Harbach argues that the deputy’s omission of his condition – lying on a stretcher with a neck brace and visible injuries – was a material misrepresentation that cast doubt on probable cause for the warrant.

The Supreme Court disagreed with Harbach’s argument regarding the false claim of odor of alcohol.

The results of the blood draw alone are not enough to prove the deputy’s statement was intentionally or recklessly false, the Court said. Harbach’s blood was drawn three hours after the accident, and given the quick dissipation of alcohol from the bloodstream, the test results showing no alcohol in Harbach’s blood do not establish that the deputy intentionally lied about smelling alcohol on Harbach, the Court said.

As for the reason for Harbach’s watery eyes and slurred speech, the Court said the deputy’s body camera video was not sufficient to conclude the deputy lied about what he observed because details such as bloodshot or watery eyes are not clearly observable, and in this case, the statement need not only be false but must also be made with intentional or reckless disregard for the truth.

Nor did the Court agree that the deputy’s omission of details about Harbach’s condition from the truck roll-over was a material misrepresentation.

“We conclude that [Deputy] Knipper’s description of the nature of the accident and his statement that Harbach suffered injuries consistent with being in a rollover vehicle accident sufficiently apprised the issuing court of his condition,” Justice Oxley wrote. “None of the omitted information made the affidavit misleading.”

The Court did, however, agree that the deputy’s statement that Harbach refused to submit to preliminary sobriety tests should not have been included in the deputy’s affidavit because the Court of Appeals’ review of the body camera video indicated the deputy never asked Harbach to perform those tests.

Even with that statement excised, the Court concluded, the remainder of the search warrant application established probable cause.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Waterman disagreed with the majority’s conclusions based on the facts of the case, likening the deputy’s false statements to rancid stew meat.

“Imagine you find several pieces of rancid meat in your bowl of stew. Would you remove them and keep eating or discard the entire bowl? The district court correctly discarded the bowl. I would affirm the district court’s ruling granting the defendant’s motion to suppress after the court found Deputy Knipper intentionally or recklessly made materially false statements and omissions in his warrant application,” Justice Waterman wrote. “My colleagues in the majority, and on the panel of the court of appeals, err by reversing that ruling. They strain to save the warrant application despite its rancid pieces. Not me. Once all the false statements are removed, the remainder falls short of establishing probable cause.”

 

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February 2024 Opinion Roundup

The Iowa Supreme Court entered opinions in eighteen cases during February 2024. You can read Rox Laird’s analysis of Singh v. McDermott, Selden v. DMACC, and Senator Roby Smith et al. v. Iowa District Court for Polk County. The remaining opinions from February are summarized here.

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