Ga. court invalidates search over misplaced license decal
Because the stop was illegally prolonged, the evidence (6 pieces of crack cocaine) was suppressed
The Georgia Court of Appeals divided 3 to 2 last month on the question of whether police were wrong to search a motorist merely because he appeared nervous and had his license plate decal on the wrong corner of the plate. On July 24, 2009, a patrolman stopped James Heard hoping to issue a ticket for a tag violation when he did not see a 2009 registration sticker. The officer had also been on the lookout for the type of Chevy S-10 truck Heard was driving.
Stopped on the side of the road, Heard explained his registration was up to date and handed over proof, along with his license and insurance card. In the course of the stop, two other officers arrived and surrounded the pickup truck. The patrolman noted that Heard appeared nervous, then checked and confirmed that there was a license decal on the left side of the license plate instead of the right side. At this point, the officer testified in court that his investigation of the traffic violation had ended, but the officer decided to ask consent to search the pickup truck. Heard said no. Heard then understood the officer to order him out of the vehicle, and he was frisked for weapons. He was asked about a search once again, and after he consented the officers found six pieces of crack cocaine.
Heard moved to throw out the evidence obtained by the search on the grounds that the officer was conducting an drug investigation after the legitimate reason for the traffic stop had concluded. The appellate majority agreed that the officer had no right to ask for consent to search in the first place.