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Matthews v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

November 21, 2014

MATTHEWS
v.
THE STATE

Motion to suppress. Morgan Superior Court. Before Judge Wingfield.

Judgment reversed.

Darel C. Mitchell, for appellant.

Fredric D. Bright, District Attorney, Alison T. Burleson, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.

PHIPPS, Chief Judge. Ellington, P. J., concurs. McMillian, J., concurs in judgment only.

OPINION

Page 516

Phipps, Chief Judge.

Jamahl Matthews appeals his convictions for trafficking in cocaine, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress, arguing that the arresting officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights by impermissibly detaining and questioning him after the officer had " returned Mr. Matthews' documents to him and given him a warning[, and the] traffic stop was over at that point." We agree, and reverse.

" On appeal from a denial of a motion to suppress, this Court must construe the evidence most favorably to uphold the ruling of the trial court. ... [T]he trial court's application of law to facts which are undisputed is subject to de novo review." [1]

The record showed the following. In May 2009, the trial court held a hearing on Matthews's motion to suppress. A sergeant with the criminal interdiction unit of the Georgia State Patrol was the only witness at the hearing. The officer testified that he had 15 years of law enforcement experience, and that he taught an interdiction program on the state and federal levels. He testified that he had received training " as far as travel patterns pertaining to drugs," where drugs may be coming from, and the routes taken to transport drugs; he added that Atlanta was the " number three [drug] distribution center in the United States," and that Interstate 20 was a major drug corridor. The officer testified that " borrowing somebody else's car" was an occurrence " we see quite frequently" in the drug trade, permitting " the plausibility

Page 517

of saying, well, it's not my car, so therefore, what's in [the] car doesn't belong to me."

The officer testified that on July 7, 2008, around 4:00 p.m., he was patroling the eastbound lanes of Interstate 20 in Morgan County when he observed a Toyota Camry vehicle being driven with the " tag bracket ... covering up the expiration and the name of [the] state." The officer stopped the vehicle; Matthews was the vehicle's sole occupant. The officer asked Matthews to exit the vehicle so that he could show Matthews the tag obstruction. As they conversed, Matthews informed the officer that he did not own the vehicle, and that it belonged to his mother-in-law. As the officer asked Matthews for his license, registration, and insurance, he observed that Matthews appeared " extremely nervous," exhibiting a " tick of rubbing his [330 Ga.App. 54] head," and that the " underling of his eye ... [was] just trembling." The officer testified that Matthews was " unusually nervous."

Matthews told the officer that he had traveled to Atlanta to visit a cousin, and that he had been there for three days. The officer did not see any luggage in the vehicle, and he asked Matthews about that. Matthews told him that he had left his clothes in Atlanta, explaining that he was ...


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