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Christian v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

October 7, 2014

CHRISTIAN
v.
THE STATE

DUI, etc. Whitfield Superior Court. Before Judge Partain.

Richard K. Murray, for appellant.

Herbert M. Poston, Jr., District Attorney, McCamy, Phillips, Tuggle & Fordham, Curtis A. Kleem, for appellee.

DILLARD, Judge. Doyle, P. J., and Miller, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 574

Dillard, Judge.

Following a bench trial, Billy Wayne Christian was convicted in probate court of driving under the influence and violating conditions of limited driving. He appealed to the superior court, and his convictions were affirmed. Now, on appeal to this Court, Christian contends that the probate court erred in denying his motion to suppress the State's evidence and in admitting Georgia Crime Information Center [329 Ga.App. 245] (" GCIC" ) printouts when the State failed to lay a proper foundation for same. For the reasons noted infra, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict,[1] the record reflects that at 8:26 a.m. on July 27, 2010, a law-enforcement officer with the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office observed Christian's pickup truck " gripping" the pavement while making a distinct scratching sound. The officer also noticed that the truck bore a Tennessee license plate, which, in light of the erratic driving, further raised his suspicions about the vehicle being in this particular subdivision that early in the morning. Accordingly, the officer relayed the tag information to dispatch and was informed that the tag returned as " not on file." The officer then stopped the truck to investigate further.

Immediately upon approaching the vehicle, the officer detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage and asked Christian to exit the truck to perform field-sobriety tests. During the investigation that ensued, the officer also learned from dispatch that Christian's license was subject to certain travel restrictions, which he violated because he was driving to a store. Thereafter, Christian exhibited clues of impairment on each field-sobriety test administered, and then returned levels of 0.137 and 0.139, respectively, on two Intoxilyzer 5000 tests. Christian was later tried and convicted of the above-referenced offenses. This appeal follows.

Page 575

1. First, Christian contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the State's evidence when the officer lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop his vehicle. We disagree.

To begin with, in considering a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress, this Court construes the evidence in favor of the court's ruling, " and we review de novo the trial court's application of the law to undisputed facts." [2] Furthermore, we must defer to the trial court's " determination on the credibility of witnesses, and the trial court's ruling on disputed facts must be accepted unless it is clearly erroneous." [3] And in reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress, we consider " all the evidence of record, including evidence introduced at trial." [4]

Additionally, we bear in mind that stopping and detaining a driver to check his license and registration is appropriate when an [329 Ga.App. 246] officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that " the driver or vehicle is subject to seizure for violation of the law." [5] In this respect, we have held that a reasonable and articulable suspicion must be " an objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity, and that this determination can only be made after considering the totality of the circumstances." [6]

Here, the officer who stopped Christian did so after dispatch relayed that his Tennessee tag number returned as " not on file." And after doing so, the officer investigated Christian's registration of the vehicle and the legality of the tag because, according to the officer's testimony, a return of " not on file" means that the tag has not been registered. Indeed, it is a misdemeanor to " operate any vehicle required to be registered in the State of Georgia without a valid numbered license plate properly validated, unless such operation is otherwise permitted ... ," [7] and this registration requirement applies to nonresidents and out-of-state visitors as well.[8] Accordingly, the officer had a ...


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