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Cristy v. State – A11A2152: When an Unconstitutional stop is Constitutional? Say What?!

At 7:30 p.m. on August 2009, a Gwinnett County Police officer signaled Curt Christy to pull over because of excessive window tinting. Christy did not pull over, but sped up and turned into a nearby subdivision, eventually pulling into the driveway of his residence. Because Christy proved a minor pursuit and the officer could not see inside the car, he approached the car with his gun drawn and immediately asked Christy to exit the vehicle and show him his hands. Christy was handcuffed after he exited the vehicle; the officer told him he was not under arrest but was being temporarily detained. While talking to Christy the officer noticed an odor of alcohol and proceeded to give him a field sobriety test, which showed that Christy was impaired. After being arrested, Christy admitted to a State-administered breath test, which indicated a BAC of .192.

Christy was arrested and charged with DUI less safe, DUI per se, fleeing a police officer, possession of an open container, excessive window tinting, and speeding. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence gathered as a result of the traffic stop and a motion to dismiss the window tinting charge, claiming the statute prohibiting excessive window tinting was unconstitutional. The trial court ruled that the excessive window-tinting statute was unconstitutional, yet it was not unreasonable for the arresting officer to have relied on the said statute in deciding to conduct a traffic stop. Christy appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, citing the Supreme Court case Michigan v. DeFillipo as precedent: police are charged to enforce laws until and unless they are declared unconstitutional.

The enactment of a law forecloses speculation by enforcement officers concerning its constitutionality—with the possible exception of law so grossly and flagrantly unconstitutional that any person of reasonable prudence would be bound to see its flaws. Society would be ill-served if its police officers took it upon themselves to determine which laws are and are not constitutionally entitled to enforcement.

Now that the Window Tint law has been declared unconstitutional in Gwinnett County and not appealed, is it legal for police to stop drivers for illegal window tinting outside of Gwinnett County? In other words, is the window tint statute only unconstitutional in Gwinnett County, and constitutional in other counties because a similar case has not been brought to the higher courts in that county? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a noise?

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