UPDATES & ANALYSIS

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Public invited to observe Iowa Supreme Court oral arguments at an evening session Feb. 19

by Rox Laird | February 16, 2024

The Iowa Supreme Court will hold a special evening session in Des Moines Feb. 19 to hear oral arguments in a case involving the right of a criminal suspect in police custody to contact a lawyer or family member.

Oral arguments are ordinarily held during mornings or early afternoons in Des Moines, but each term the Court travels to other Iowa cities to hear arguments in high school auditoriums or community centers to give the public a greater opportunity to see how the appellate process works. Typically the Court hears arguments in a case in the evening in Des Moines to give those who work during the day a chance to observe the process.

The Feb. 19 session is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Supreme Court Courtroom on the fourth floor of the Judicial Branch Building, 111 East Court Avenue. The Polk County Bar Association will sponsor a public reception with the justices following the oral arguments. For more information, go to the news release on the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

The justices will hear arguments in State v. Faron Alan Starr. Starr is charged with willful injury, burglary, domestic abuse assault, and related firearms violations in connection with the stabbing of a woman in Sioux City and the theft of weapons in a burglary.

At his trial, Starr filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained in a Sioux City police officer’s interview with Starr at the police department following his arrest. He argues the officer violated his right to call a lawyer or family member “without unnecessary delay,” as required by state law in Iowa Code section 804.20. The Woodbury County District Court granted Starr’s motion to suppress evidence from the interview. The State appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Iowa Code section 804.20 states in part: “Any peace officer or other person having custody of any person arrested or restrained of the person’s liberty for any reason whatever, shall permit that person, without unnecessary delay after arrival at the place of detention, to call, consult, and see a member of the person’s family or an attorney of the person’s choice, or both.”

In its appeal, the State argues that Code section’s reference to a “necessary delay” should be read to include a delay necessary to protect public safety. In this case, the delay in allowing Starr to make a call to his father was necessary because the officer wanted time to question Starr about any weapons he might have left behind while officers were searching for him prior to his arrest. The officer was concerned about safety at schools, a park, and residents in the area where a shotgun and an AR-15 had been stolen in the burglary Starr was suspected of stealing.

The trial court said that while it did not disagree with the State’s interpretation of a public-safety exception to the statute’s requirement that a suspect in custody be allowed to make a call without “unnecessary delay,” the court could find no previously recognized authority for reaching that conclusion, leaving it to the appellate courts to decide.

In response to the State’s argument, Starr argues that a broad public-safety exception is unnecessary in a case such as his because any public-safety concern would need to be dealt with at the time a suspect is apprehended, not after they are brought in to the police station, and it “would give law enforcement the green light to disregard a person’s assertion of their Section 804.20 rights.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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