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State v. Castillo

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 2, 2015

THE STATE
v.
CASTILLO

Motion to suppress. Hall Superior Court. Before Judge Deal.

Judgment affirmed.

Lee Darragh, District Attorney, Shiv Sachdeva, Assistant District Attorney, for appellant.

Robert L. Booker, for appellee.

PHIPPS, Chief Judge. Ellington, P. J., and McMillian, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 572

Phipps, Chief Judge.

Based on evidence collected during a traffic stop on May 14, 2000, Efrain Castillo was charged with driving while his license was suspended, having no proof of insurance, and committing second-degree forgery (for presenting to the officer who stopped him a social security card that did not belong to him). Castillo filed a motion to suppress the evidence, challenging the legality of the stop. The state responded that the officer had reasonable suspicion that the vehicle -- which had a dealer's drive-out tag -- was being driven in violation of state vehicle registration law. After a hearing, the trial court granted Castillo's suppression motion. The state appeals. For reasons that follow, we affirm.

Investigative stops of vehicles are analogous to Terry [[1]] stops and, therefore, must be justified by specific, articulable facts sufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. Operation of any vehicle required to be registered in the State of Georgia without a valid numbered license plate is a misdemeanor, except that, during the 30-day period within which vehicle registration is required, the purchaser of a new or used vehicle may operate the vehicle with a temporary plate issued by the dealer. At the time of the traffic stop in this case, Georgia law did not require the temporary plate to show its expiration date[.] [S]uch a requirement was added by OCGA § 40-2-8 (b) (2) (B) (i), effective July 1, 2000.[2]

[330 Ga.App. 829] And cases such as Chiasson v. State [3] recognize that, prior to July 1, 2000, the stop of a vehicle to investigate compliance with state registration law may have been authorized if the vehicle bore a dealer's drive-out tag which, based upon its " weathered" look, appeared to have been on the vehicle beyond the statutory 30-day period.[4]

OCGA § 17-5-30 (b) states that " the burden of proving that the search and seizure were lawful shall be on the state." Hence, " [i]t is the [s]tate's burden to establish the existence of circumstances constituting an exception to the general prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures." [5]

When the trial court convened the suppression hearing on January 9, 2014, thirteen

Page 573

years had passed since the officer stopped Castillo on May 14, 2000 at about 7:00 p.m. The officer was asked on direct examination to " [t]ell the court about the circumstances of that contact" with Castillo. The officer testified, " I initially stopped the vehicle that Mr. Castillo was driving for a drive-out tag that appeared very worn and old. It appeared that it had been on the vehicle more than 30 days. That's why I initiated the traffic stop." The officer described the tag as " one of those paper plates." The officer was further asked on direct examination, " Did it seem substantially more than a month old or just a little bit more than a month old?" He answered, " As I'm trying ...


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