Late last month, a Jasper County District Court judge overruled a defense motion regarding a Newton man’s urine sample taken after Iowa’s implied consent law was invoked following a traffic incident that claimed the life of a Newton teenager.
In her written ruling, issued Monday, March 24, District Court Judge Martha Mertz ruled Newton police officers had reasonable grounds to invoke Iowa’s implied consent laws and to request the urine sample, even though two breath tests indicated he had not been drinking and an Iowa State Trooper conducting a drug recognition exam said he did not appear to be intoxicated.
According to the evidence considered in her ruling, Mertz said that on April 21, 2013, Daniel Edwards, 42, was delivering pizzas in his 2001 Chevy Blazer when he struck 14-year-old Brendan O’Brien, who had been walking in the street with a group of friends. After the teen was struck, he was thrown onto the hood of Edwards’ vehicle and was carried for several feet before the Blazer came to a stop.
O’Brien then fell to the ground; he was breathing, but motionless, at that time. One of O’Brien’s friends used a cell phone to call 911 and summon medical assistance. When first responders arrived, Mertz said, the evidence suggested they knew this was a serious — if not fatal — incident.
O’Brien was rushed to Skiff Medical Center and then airlifted to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, where he would die two days later as a result of his injuries.
At the scene, Newton Police Officer Julie Britton spoke briefly with Edwards while conducting traffic control. She said she observed that he seemed to be “unemotional.” She was responsible for moving Edwards’ Blazer to a nearby parking lot to reopen the street for traffic, to call for a tow truck and to inventory the contents of the vehicle before it was towed away.
The investigation of the incident was led by Newton Police Officer Andrew Hanson, who interviewed Edwards and conducted field sobriety and preliminary breath tests before taking him to the Newton Police Department for further interviews. While at the station, Hanson invoked Iowa’s implied consent laws.
Edwards failed two of the three field sobriety tests, but the breath test read zero. A second breath test, using the Newton Police Department’s Datamaster unit, also registered zero blood alcohol content.
Iowa State Trooper Eric Van Zee, an expert in drug recognition examinations, was called in to conduct an exam on Edwards. Although Van Zee noted some “clues” that Edwards had recently used or been under the influence of a controlled substance or drug.
The decision to request a urine test was left up to Hanson. While Van Zee was conducting his exam, however, Britton reported back to Hanson regarding her inventory of Edwards’ vehicle.
During her inventory, Britton noticed the center console was not secured to the floorboard. Lifting it up, she found a “pot pipe” inside, as well as wrappers with the name “Psycho Herbal Potpourri” — a commercial name for synthetic cannibis, or K2 — as well as material in the pipe, which had not been smoked, that later tested positive as K2.
Hanson, based on the failed field sobriety tests, Van Zee’s clues of previous drug use, and the discovery of the pipe and K2 in the vehicle, invoked the implied consent and requested the urine sample. The urine sample, evaluated by an independent lab, indicated K2 in Edwards’ system.
Mertz identified a number of factors that supported her ruling:
• Edwards had been in a serious accident and, according to at least two witnesses, had appeared to be distracted;
• Britton’s testimony that Edwards appeared to be unemotional, despite having been involved in an incident that seriously injured a young pedestrian a few minutes prior;
• Edwards failed two field sobriety tests, so it was reasonable to conclude he may have injested a controlled substance or drug other than alcohol;
• 321J.2 of the Code of Iowa prohibits driving with any amount of controlled substance in the body, so it is unneccessary to determine the level of intoxication before requesting a urine sample;
• 321J.6 of the Code of Iowa states that requesting a urine of blood sample is allowed if an officer has reasonable grounds to request it;
• K2 and the unsmoked pot pipe were found in Edwards’ vehicle; and
• Van Zee discovered clues to prior drug use when examining Edwards.
Mertz said the defense’s argument was not persuasive. She said an officer is not required to prove a violation, only reasonable grounds that a violation exists, before requesting a urine sample — a “significant difference,” she said.
While she noted a “different conclusion could be drawn from the facts,” that possibility did not negate Hanson’s reasonable belief that Edwards had violated Iowa’s OWI laws. For that reason, she overruled the defense motion to suppress.
A follow-up pretrial conference has been scheduled for April 14, although no trial date has been set. The deadline for discovery in the case was extended to June 2.
Daily News Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.