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Police garage not "detention" for right to phone call


In January, the Iowa Supreme Court examined whether a Sheriffs Department “Sally Port,” or, garage, when used to administer field sobriety tests on a suspected drunk driver, was a place of “detention” that triggered the right to a phone call. The Supreme Court held that it was not.

In State v. Robert Davis, a Muscatine County Sheriffs Deputy dispatched to a car accident in a snowstorm. The deputy suspected one of the drivers in the accident may be intoxicated based on the boilerplate language of every police report anywhere in Iowa: bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, and an odor of alcohol about their person.

At that point, the deputy made a decision to transport the suspected drunk driver to the nearby law enforcement center where there was a “sally port,” or, garage area suitable for testing outside the elements.

The driver wanted to call his wife before leaving the scene but the deputy denied that request and informed the driver he could call her after SFSTs. According to the opinion, the driver “failed” two standardized field sobriety tests, was arrested, and moved to OWI processing, where he called his wife and met with his attorney personally. After doing so, he submitted to chemical testing providing a DMT test result positive for .128 g ETOH/210 L breath.

He moved to suppress the SFSTs and the DMT test result on the basis that the deputy’s denial of a phone call until after he was tested in the sally port constituted an unreasonable denial of the right to a phone call inside a place of detention pursuant to Iowa Code § 804.20.

A district court suppressed the field sobriety tests at the jail’s sally port as in violation of Iowa Code § 804.20, finding that the sally port was indeed a “place of detention.” However, the district court did not suppress the DMT because he spoke to his wife and met with his attorney beforehand. He tried the case to the bench on a suppression hearing transcript and a number of exhibits and the district court judge found him guilty. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Writing for the Court, Justice Mansfield synthesized two cases in which the Iowa Supreme Court seemingly presented alternative holdings—one suggesting that field sobriety tests are part of an investigative process that would not be served by interruptions caused by phone calls and the the other suggesting that a summary conclusion that a suspect was “technically under arrest” but for one more test ended the investigation on the highway and entitled a defendant to a phone call in the patrol car.

Justice Mansfield cautioned against contrasting these cases and urged that they could be read together to require the completion of field testing before triggering the right to a phone call. The Court also explicitly stated that there was no difference between the sally port and the roadside:

“It is undisputed that the location of the testing was shifted only because of bad weather: it was snowing at the time and there was already a two to three inch snow cover on the ground,” wrote the Court.

“In statutory terms, the sally port was not a ‘place of detention,’” continued Justice Mansfield, adding that sally ports are for cars, not people, and that “the fact that the sally port was attached to the jail is immaterial” because the test subject was no more restrained in the sally port than it would be at the scene of the accident.

The court went on to say the limited, statutory right to contact a family member or counsel must be fulfilled before being required to submit or refuse a chemical test—and that it happened here.

NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in the Davis case.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for OWI in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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