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McCoy v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

April 11, 2017

MCCOY
v.
THE STATE.

          ELLINGTON, P. J., ANDREWS and RICKMAN, JJ.

          ELLINGTON, Presiding Judge.

         Following a bench trial, the State Court of Henry County found Latisha McCoy guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of driving under the influence of marijuana to the extent that it was less safe to drive, OCGA § 40-6-391 (a) (2). McCoy appeals, contending that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress evidence seized during an allegedly unconstitutional roadblock. For the reasons explained below, we affirm.

         When a criminal defendant moves to suppress evidence on the basis that it was obtained as a result of an illegal warrantless search, "the burden of proving that the search and seizure were lawful shall be on the state." OCGA § 17-5-30 (b). "Hence, it is the state's burden to establish the existence of circumstances constituting an exception to the general prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures." (Punctuation and footnote omitted.) State v. Castillo, 330 Ga.App. 828, 829 (769 S.E.2d 571) (2015). As an appellate court, we follow three fundamental principles when reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress.

First, when a motion to suppress is heard by the trial judge, that judge sits as the trier of facts. The trial judge hears the evidence, and his findings based upon conflicting evidence are analogous to the verdict of a jury and should not be disturbed by a reviewing court if there is any evidence to support it. Second, the trial court's decision with regard to questions of fact and credibility must be accepted unless clearly erroneous. Third, the reviewing court must construe the evidence most favorably to the upholding of the trial court's findings and judgment.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Miller v. State, 288 Ga. 286, 286 (1) (702 S.E.2d 888) (2010). See also State v. Tousley, 271 Ga.App. 874 (611 S.E.2d 139) (2005) ("With mixed questions of fact and law, the appellate court accepts the trial court's findings on disputed facts and witness credibility, unless clearly erroneous, and independently applies applicable legal principles to the facts.") (citation and punctuation omitted).

          Where a defendant moves to suppress evidence seized at a police checkpoint or roadblock, the State, to carry its burden of proving that the seizure was constitutional,

must show that the law enforcement agency's checkpoint program had an appropriate primary purpose other than ordinary crime control - a purpose examined at [the] programmatic level, rather than by trying to determine the motives of the supervisor who implemented and the officers who conducted the particular checkpoint at issue. The State must also prove that the particular checkpoint at which the defendant was stopped was properly implemented and operated - that the five requirements enumerated in LaFontaine[1] were met. LaFontaine requires the State to show that: [1] the decision to implement the roadblock was made by supervisory personnel rather than the officers in the field; [2] all vehicles were stopped as opposed to random vehicle stops; [3] the delay to motorists was minimal; [4] the roadblock operation was well identified as a police checkpoint; and [5] the "screening" officer's training and experience was sufficient to qualify him to make an initial determination as to which motorists should be given field tests for intoxication.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Williams v. State, 293 Ga. 883, 886-887 (2) (750 S.E.2d 355) (2013).[2] Importantly, "[t]he factors in LaFontaine are not general guidelines but are minimum constitutional prerequisites with which perfunctory compliance will not suffice." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Owens v. State, 308 Ga.App. 374, 376 (1) (707 S.E.2d 584) (2011).[3] Further, as the Supreme Court of Georgia has explained, "compliance with the Edmond[4] and LaFontaine requirements does not necessarily end the Fourth Amendment analysis of a checkpoint case. The ultimate question remains whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the challenged stop was reasonable[, ]" including considerations whether the checkpoint stop was pretextual, the checkpoint was used to harass, or the checkpoint was otherwise arbitrary or oppressive. Brown v. State, 293 Ga. 787, 797 (2) (d) (750 S.E.2d 148) (2013). In this case, McCoy challenges only the final LaFontaine factor, contending that there was no evidence that the screening officer's training and experience was sufficient to qualify him to make the initial determination as to which motorists should be given field tests for intoxication.

         The record shows the following undisputed facts. On July 19, 2015, McCoy stopped at a Henry County Police Department roadblock on the southbound exit ramp off of I-75 at Exit 228. After speaking with McCoy, the screening officer suspected that she was impaired from smoking marijuana. Another officer, who was part of a "H.E.A.T. unit, " took over the investigation and ultimately arrested McCoy for DUI.[5]

         The screening officer did not testify at the hearing on McCoy's motion to suppress. The only evidence regarding the screening officer's training and experience was the testimony of the police sergeant who authorized the roadblock. When asked what training the screening officers who were involved in the roadblock had "to make sure that they could determine that drivers need to be given field sobriety evaluations, " the sergeant responded that the screening officers "go through a certification during their police academy, the Georgia POST."

         The trial court denied McCoy's motion to suppress. On the issue of the screening officer's training and experience, the trial court found that

all officers present were [POST] certified, and therefore had authority to be present at the roadblock and screen drivers. This certification and training allows the officers to judge which drivers may or may not be under the influence of alcohol and which need to be further investigated.

         At a hearing on McCoy's motion for reconsideration of the suppression ...


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