Client acquitted after trial on a charge of interference with official acts. The police violated his rights by preventing him from closing his door. The State unsuccessfully argued the community caretaking function.
The Court ruled:
The parties appeared for trial as scheduled. Based upon the evidence presented the Court finds the defendant not guilty and orders that this case be dismissed. Costs to be paid by the plaintiff. …
This matter came before the Court … at the time set for bench trial on the charge of Interference With Official Acts in violation of Iowa Code Section 719.1(1)(B). It was also the date and time set for the Defendant’s Motion to Suppress … . The State appeared by Assistant Johnson County Attorney Jacob Behnke. The Defendant was present with his attorney Adam Pollack. Witnesses were sworn and testimony was heard. State’s Exhibits 1 and 2 and Defendant’s Exhibits A and B were admitted. Post-trial briefs were submitted by the State and the Defendant.
FINDING OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF THE COURT
Officer Trenton Geer of the Coralville Police Department testified that he was on duty on April 5, 2022 at around midnight. He responded to a call for domestic disturbance at … Apartments located at ….. in Coralville, Johnson County Iowa. The caller indicated hearing a male and female screaming and items being broken. Geer was wearing his uniform and badge. Geer went to the door of the apartment to speak to the Defendant. The Defendant had opened the door. The Defendant volunteered a statement that he did not hit her. Geer described the Defendant as argumentative, aggressive, and screaming. Geer testified that saw holes in the wall. Geer agreed that the door of the apartment opened inward. He stated his foot was on the door. Geer admitted that the Defendant wanted to close the door and that the Defendant asked that he get a warrant. Geer did not have a video or a report.
Sergeant Micheal Mrstik of the Coralville Police Department testified. He was wearing his uniform and badge. He was dispatched for a possible fight. He arrived and Officers Geer and Freeman on the scene. He was concerned as the Defendant appeared belligerent and emotional and he noticed things scattered inside. He was concerned about safety. He indicated the Defendant tried to slam the door. Officers stopped it and placed the Defendant under arrest.
The Defendant and the State each submitted post-trial briefs to the Court. In its post-trial brief, the State argues the Defendant’s crime was interference with the Officers carrying out their community caretaking function. The State relies on State v. Kern, 831 N.W.2d 149, 173 (Iowa 2013). The facts in Kern are quite different than in this matter. In general, Kern involved a parolee with a signed parolee agreement and officers were initially permitted into the home. On the facts in this matter, the Court does not agree that there was an exception to the warrant requirement. With that logic, the State could assert in every situation that Officers are carrying out their community caretaking function. If that were true, there would be no protections of privacy that the Fourth Amendment and state constitutions afford. The Court finds the lineage of cases in the Defendant’s post-trial brief to be persuasive. In the instant case, the Defendant was in his own home. The Court finds that at the point that the Defendant indicated the need to get a warrant, that obtaining the warrant was required. But the State seems to suggest that if any Defendant does not cooperate, they are inherently interfering.
The Court finds the alleged victim was leaving the apartment when officers came on scene. She did not indicate distress or engage with the officers other than to say she was going home. The Court finds that the Officers knocked and the Defendant opened his door. The Court finds that the Defendant did not want the Officers to enter his home and asked that the Officers to obtain a warrant. The Officers admitted to preventing the Defendant from closing his door. The Court finds that this violated the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment and Iowa Constitutional rights. The Court does not find that there was exigence.
The State asserted that the officers were doing an investigation and the Defendant was not permitting them to do so. After the Defendant was arrested there was no further investigation conducted. The Court does not find that any additional investigating occurred. The Court does not find that there was an exigent circumstance that would forgo obtaining a warrant. The Court does not find that these facts meet the high burden to qualify as an exception to the Fourth Amendment. The importance of obtaining a warrant cannot be overlooked even with a difficult and belligerent defendant. All parties agreed that there was no evidence of the Defendant was resisting arrest.
The Court finds that there was no legal basis to justify officers not obtaining a warrant. The Defendant’s Motion to Suppress is GRANTED. Further, the Court does not find the State’s evidence sufficient to sustain a conviction for interference with official acts in violation of Iowa Code Section 719.1(1)(B).