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Floyd county drunk driver loses appeal but will be re-sentenced

This news story was published on December 23, 2015.
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gavel-justiceDES MOINES – A man stopped for drunk driving at least five times over the years lost his appeal after another arrest, this time in Floyd county, in which he was surrounded by open beers and two coolers containing beer.

According to court documents, on November 21, 2013, Deputy Daniel Sargent of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office was monitoring traffic on Highway 18 when he observed a vehicle traveling at a speed of 30 mph. The deputy watched the vehicle pull onto the shoulder and stop. When it pulled back into traffic a short time later, a truck swerved to avoid hitting it. The vehicle resumed traveling at a speed of 30 mph, and Deputy Sargent activated his emergency lights to initiate a traffic stop.

The deputy informed 65-year-old Steven E. Sands, the driver of the vehicle, that he had initiated the stop because Sands was traveling at a “very dangerous low rate of speed” and had nearly been hit by a truck. While speaking to Sands, Deputy Sargent observed two open coolers containing cans of beer in the vehicle’s backseat and one open can of beer between Sands’s feet. The deputy smelled “a strong odor of alcoholic beverage coming from [Sands]” after transporting him to the patrol car. Sands initially denied he had been drinking before admitting he had two beers before leaving home. He also denied having any open containers of beer in his vehicle, though Deputy Sargent discovered six open cans on the floor by the driver’s seat after investigating further.

Because a preliminary breath test registered Sands’s blood alcohol concentration at .163, Sands was arrested and later charged with OWI. On the night of his arrest, Deputy Sargent also issued Sands a ticket for failure to maintain minimum speed. Three days later, Deputy Sargent ticketed Sands for improper merger.

Sands pled not guilty to the OWI charge and filed a motion to suppress, alleging he was improperly seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article 1, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution when Deputy Sargent initiated the traffic stop based on his failure to maintain a minimum speed. It was later discovered there is no minimum speed on the portion of highway Sands had been traveling at the time he was stopped. The trial court denied the motion, finding Deputy Sargent had a reasonable belief Sands was impaired in some manner and may have been violating the law. After proceeding to a bench trial on the stipulated facts, the trial court found Sands guilty of first-offense OWI but was given punishments equal to a second-offense drunk driving conviction.

On appeal, Sands contended the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because his vehicle was unlawfully stopped and detained. He also contends the court erred in sentencing him for second-offense OWI when he was convicted of first-offense OWI.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that although the deputy mistakenly believed Sands was violating the minimum speed limit, probable cause existed to stop Sands for improper merger. The court affirmed the denial of his motion to suppress. However, the trial court abused its discretion, the appeals court said, in imposing a sentence for second-offense OWI when Sands was found guilty of first-offense OWI. The court vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing.

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