Court of Appeals Reminds Drug Defense Bar to Preserve Error

On June 16, 2021 the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a reminder to the drug defense bar in State v. Britcher

Police deployed a drug K9 around Britcher’s vehicle following a traffic stop for license plate lamp and registration plate violations.  A probable cause search ensued that revealed methamphetamine.

Britcher argued on appeal that police impermissibly expanded both the duration and scope of the traffic stop.  He also challenged the use of the K9 inside his car.  Three issues in total.

The Court of Appeals upheld the admissibility of evidence because police did not expand the duration of the traffic stop.  It’s what the court didn’t rule on, however, that makes the opinion noteworthy.

Britcher didn’t raise two of the issues–exceeding the scope of the stop and the improper K9 deployment–in his motion to suppress.  So, the trial court did not address these issues in its ruling.

When an issue is neither raised nor decided by the trial court, error is not preserved for appellate courts to review. 

That’s a missed opportunity.

The drug defense attorneys at GRL Law understand error preservation.  We raise issues for the trial court to consider.  If certain issues we raise are not addressed in a ruling, we ask the trial court to provide additional findings of fact and conclusions of law to preserve error.  

In fact, GRL Law anticipates a ruling tomorrow from the Iowa Supreme Court that followed this exact path.  The trial court declined to address the issue of a warrantless trespass onto garbage containers when we specifically raised it.  But we didn’t simply appeal without a ruling from the trial court.  So, we made the appropriate record in order to get the issue framed properly for appellate review.

Raise the issue.  Get a ruling.  Appeal.