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Griffith v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 19, 2015

GRIFFITH
v.
THE STATE

Motion to suppress. Gordon Superior Court. Before Judge David K. Smith.

Bearden Law Firm, D. Lynn Bearden, for appellant.

Rosemary M. Greene, District Attorney, Erle J. Newton III, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 58

McFadden, Judge.

After being indicted for various drug-related offenses, Joe Travis Griffith moved to suppress evidence found in a search of his vehicle during a traffic stop. The trial court denied the motion, and we granted interlocutory review of that ruling. Because Griffith admitted to having drugs in his vehicle during the course of an otherwise lawful traffic stop that had not been unreasonably prolonged, we affirm.

When reviewing the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress, the evidence is construed most favorably to uphold the trial court's findings and judgment. And if there is any evidence to support the trial court's findings on disputed facts and credibility, they will not be disturbed unless clearly erroneous.

Betancourt v. State, 322 Ga.App. 201, 204 (2) (744 S.E.2d 419) (2013) (citations and punctuation omitted).

So viewed, the evidence showed that on the morning of March 19, 2013, a law enforcement officer stopped Griffith for driving a vehicle with improperly tinted windows. Immediately upon stopping the vehicle, the officer radioed dispatch to check Griffith's out-of-state license tag. Then, as the officer first waited for Griffith to produce his [331 Ga.App. 351] driver's license and then wrote Griffith a warning for the tint violation, the officer questioned Griffith, who told a rambling, inconsistent story about why he was driving on the stretch of highway where he was stopped. After the officer finished writing the warning, but before he had received the results of the tag check from dispatch, the officer made a comment to Griffith about the prevalence of crime on that stretch of highway and then asked Griffith if he had anything illegal in his vehicle. Griffith admitted that he had a meth pipe and methamphetamine in the vehicle, and the officer arrested him. The arrest occurred less than 13 minutes from the start of the traffic stop. Based on Griffith's statement, the officer searched the vehicle and found a meth pipe and methamphetamine.

Griffith does not dispute the validity of the traffic stop, but he argues that the officer unreasonably prolonged it. An investigatory stop of a vehicle " cannot be unreasonably prolonged beyond the time required to fulfill the purpose of the stop." Sommese v. State, 299 Ga.App. 664, 668 (1) (683 S.E.2d 642) (2009). But such claims, as our Supreme Court has explained,

are of two sorts. In some cases, a detention is prolonged beyond the conclusion of the investigation that warranted the detention in the first place, and in those cases, the courts generally have concluded that such a prolongation -- even a short one -- is unreasonable, unless, of course, good cause has appeared in the meantime to justify a continuation of the detention to pursue a different investigation. In other cases, the detention is not prolonged beyond the conclusion of the investigation that originally warranted the detention, but it is claimed that the investigation took too long, perhaps because the officer spent too much time inquiring about matters unrelated to the investigation. In these cases, the courts examine whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant.

Rodriguez v. State, 295 Ga. 362, 369 (2) (b) (761 S.E.2d 19) (2014) (citations and punctuation omitted).

This case presents the second sort of claim. The officer had finished writing a warning for the window tint violation, but he had not yet received information from the tag check, which among other things he needed to verify Griffith's insurance status because Griffith [331 Ga.App. 352] had not been able to produce an insurance card. A reasonable traffic stop

generally includes the time necessary to verify the driver's license, insurance, registration; to complete any paperwork connected with the citation or a written warning; and to run a computer check to determine whether there are any ...

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