BARNES, P. J., MERCIER and BROWN, JJ.
Barnes, Presiding Judge.
Court granted Susan Lowe's application for an
interlocutory appeal of the trial court's order denying
her motion to suppress. On appeal, Lowe contends that the
trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress because
the search was not justified on the basis of probable cause
nor under any exception to the warrant requirement. Upon our
review, we reverse.
In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to
First, the trial judge's 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 them. 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.
Fourth, we review questions of law de novo.
and citations omitted.) Reyes v. State, 334 Ga.App.
552, 552 (1) (780 S.E.2d 674) (2015).
[A]ppellate courts must focus on the facts found by the trial
court in its order, as the trial court sits as the trier of
fact. An appellate court may, however, consider facts that
definitively can be ascertained exclusively by reference to
evidence that is uncontradicted and presents no questions of
credibility, such as facts indisputably discernible from a
and punctuation omitted.) Caffee v. State, 303 Ga.
557, 557 (814 S.E.2d 386) (2018).
by these principles, the evidence demonstrates that agents
with the Savannah Police Department's Counter Narcotics
Team were conducting surveillance on a house on Cottonvale
Road based on an anonymous complaint, in the form of a tip
sheet. According to the complaint, "M. S.", an
unidentified male, was, among other things, selling drugs at
the address, and M. S. drove a Ford van. When agents observed
a Honda Passport containing two females depart from the
address, they followed the vehicle to conduct "mobile
surveillance." Three agents in separate vehicles
followed the car as it stopped at a Wells Fargo Bank, then
continued traveling on Highway 17. One of the agents involved
in the mobile surveillance testified at the hearing on the
motion to suppress that the decision was made to "follow
[the vehicle] and in the event that it gave us probable cause
for a traffic infraction, we were going to get [it]
stopped." . The agents wanted the vehicle "pulled
over, if the opportunity presented itself. . . to be able to
search the vehicle and its passengers." The agents
radioed the police department to "get a marked unit in
the area for when the vehicle committed an infraction."
One of the agents trailing the vehicle observed "the
vehicle change lanes without giving any kind of signal,"
and he notified the marked police cars, who then made the
traffic stop. Two policemen involved in the traffic stop
testified at the motion to suppress hearing. One of the
officers testified that they were not given the reason agents
wanted the vehicle stopped over the radio, but that were
requested to "get probable cause to stop the
vehicle." He testified that agents later told him that
they wanted to stop the vehicle "to identify the
officer who made the stop approached the driver, who was
identified as Lowe, and asked for her license. He testified
that he had a conversation with Lowe, but that it was
difficult to do so because "she was very nervous. She
was shaking." A back-up officer and the agents were also
on the scene. The officer gave Lowe's license to the
agents who told him to "see if [he could] get her to
consent to a search of the car." Although Lowe refused
to consent, the officer testified that he misunderstood and
told the agents that she had consented to the
this time, the backup officer approached the passenger window
and asked the passenger for identification He testified that
the passenger "reached towards the floorboard and when
she came back up, I could see in her hand that she had a
black mesh pouch and sticking out of that pouch was a plastic
baggie. And I noticed some green leafy substance on
there." The officer testified that he observed the
plastic bag with the green leafy substance when the passenger
opened the bag. The officer removed the plastic bag from
the pouch and placed it on the roof of the vehicle. He then
asked the passenger if there was "anymore in the
car" and if there was anything else [he] need[ed] to
know about." He asked the passenger again what she had
in the car, and what he would find when he searched the car.
The passenger responded that she did not have anything else,
and the officer then asked Lowe, who's purse was visible,
if she had anything in her purse. The women were then removed
from the car, and the officer placed the plastic bag back in
the car on the passenger's seat and then searched the
contents of the pouch. During the ensuing search of the car,
the officers retrieve a plastic Ajax container under the
driver's floorboard containing methamphetamine. Lowe was
subsequently arrested and charged with trafficking in and
possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, less
than one ounce, and possession of drug related objects. .
filed a motion to suppress, arguing, among other things, that
the search of her car was unlawful because it was not based
on any exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant
requirement. The trial court denied Lowe's motion,
finding the search valid under the automobile exception to
the Fourth Amendment in that:
the mesh bag and the alleged marijuana were observed inside
of [Lowe's] car. [Lowe] and the passenger were seated
next to each other in the vehicle. Based on the evidence
before it, the Court finds the officers had probable cause to
conduct the subsequent warrantless search of the vehicle.
trial court relied on this Court's decision in State
v. Sarden, 305 Ga.App. 587, 589 (699 S.E.2d 880) (2010),
for the proposition that, even in the absence of an exigency
preventing an officer from obtaining a search warrant, the
automobile exception permits a ...