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Worlds v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

August 14, 2014

WORLDS
v.
THE STATE

Motion to suppress. Hall Superior Court. Before Judge Girardeau, Senior Judge.

Grace K. Akan, for appellant.

Lee Darragh, District Attorney, Kelley M. Robertson, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.

BOGGS, Judge. Barnes, P. J., and Branch, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 830

Boggs, Judge.

We granted Teresa Worlds' interlocutory application in this case to determine whether a trailer hitch ball installed on the bumper of a vehicle in front of the rear license plate " obstructs or hinders the clear display and legibility of a license plate" within the meaning of OCGA § 40-2-41. Worlds appeals from the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress, urging that the trial court erred in concluding that her license plate was obstructed, thus justifying a traffic stop. We disagree and affirm.

When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we apply the " any evidence" standard, which means that we sustain all of the trial court's findings of fact that are supported by any evidence. We construe all evidence presented in favor of the trial court's findings and judgment.

( Citation, punctuation and footnote omitted.) Davis v. State, 302 Ga.App. 144, 144-145 (690 S.E.2d 464) (2010). Because Worlds " intensely cross-examined the officer and challenged his credibility" in the hearing on the motion to suppress, we " do not apply a de novo standard of review, which applies only where the facts are undisputed." (Citation and footnote omitted.) Id. at 145.

So construed, the evidence showed that in November 2012, a police officer stopped Worlds' vehicle after he observed " that the fourth digit [of her license plate] was obstructed by the attached ball hitch." [1] During the stop, the officer discovered drugs in plain view in the vehicle. At the hearing on her motion to suppress, Worlds introduced photographs of her vehicle purporting to show that the license plate was not obscured by the hitch. The officer, however, testified that the photographs did not show the plate as it appeared to him when he made the traffic stop, because they were taken at a different angle and distance and not while the two vehicles were moving. At least one of Worlds' photographs, moreover, shows the fourth digit on the license plate partially obstructed by the bumper hitch, as testified to by the officer. The video recording of the stop is of poor quality, but the video shows the bumper hitch concealing at least one of the [328 Ga.App. 828] license plate numbers, and the officer's recorded comment to dispatch states that he cannot read the entire tag. The trial court concluded,

based upon the officer's testimony, the video recording and the photographs put into evidence by the defense, that the clear display and legibility of the plate was obstructed by the ball hitch in this case, giving the officer a valid basis to stop the vehicle driven by the Defendant.

1. Worlds contends that a single, partially obscured digit on a license plate does not violate the law. The applicable Code section provides:

OCGA § 40-2-41. Display of license plates
Unless otherwise permitted under this chapter, every vehicle required to be registered under this chapter, which is in use upon the highways, shall at all times display the license plate issued to the owner for such vehicle, and the plate shall be fastened to the rear of the vehicle in a position so as not to swing and shall be at all times plainly visible. No person shall display on the rear of a motor vehicle any temporary or permanent plate or tag not issued by the State of Georgia which is intended to resemble a license plate which is issued by the State of ...

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