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Heard v State – consent to search is no good where reason for stop is wrong

Heard v. State, A13A0853, Court of Appeals of Georgia, Decided: November 22, 2013.  James Heard was stopped by police in Franklin County because the Police Captain had told the Officer that a vehicle matching his car’s description had been involved in drug activity and because no tag validation sticker was visible. It turned out that the validation sticker was on the wrong side of the license plate and initially unseen by the Officer. Heard’s driver’s license was valid and he had no warrants so Heard was free to leave. However, the Officer asked him why he was so nervous and got him out of the car. After initially refusing to consent to a search of his vehicle he agreed and crack cocaine was found.

Once the license has been run, identity checked, warrants checked and processing of original traffic violation has been completed, an officer cannot continue detention without articulable suspicion. If an officer continues to hold an individual after the conclusion of the traffic stop and interrogates him or seeks consent to search without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the officer has exceeded the scope of a permissible investigation of the initial traffic stop and the search is illegal.

The officer in this case had no information about the reliability of the lookout information provided to the police captain or how timeliness of the information. There was only a general description of the vehicle.

Nervousness is not a legal basis for an investigative detention. Even when combined with the lookout information and nervousness, the Court of Appeals found that there were no circumstances sufficient to create a reasonable suspicion that Heard was involved in criminal activity other than the suspected traffic violation.  Therefore, the search was illegal and the drugs were suppressed.

-Author: George C. Creal, Jr.