Worlds v. State, A14A1112 (August 14, 2014). In November 2012, Teresa Worlds was pulled over by police in Hall County because the 4th digit of her license plate was obstructed by a trailer hitch ball mounted on the bumper. During the traffic stop the police officer found drugs in plain view. Worlds presented photos at the motion to suppress to show that the trailer hitch ball did not obstruct the license plate. The Officer said the photos were from a different angle and the video in evidence showed that the trailer hitch partially obstructed at least one number on the license plate. O.C.G.A. 40-2-41 provides in pertinent part, “It shall be the duty of the operator of any vehicle to keep the license plate legible at all times. No license plate shall be covered with any material unless the material is colorless and transparent. No apparatus that obstructs or hinders the clear display and legibility of a license plate shall be attached to the rear of any motor vehicle required to be registered in the state. Any person who violates any provision of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” The Court found that the vehicle stop was legit.
The Georgia Court of Appeals held that the fact that the plate is only partially obstructed does not change the fact that the hitch “hindered” the “clear display” of the plate and that part of it was not “legible.” See, e.g., State v. Davis, 283 Ga. App. 200, 201 (1) (641 SE2d 205) (2007) (plate cover that partially obscured name of state violated Code section, even though officer recognized state of origin); Nelson v. State, 247 Ga. App. 455, 456 (1) (544 SE2d 189) (2001) (black plate border obscured name of state but not numbers; “the statute does not specify that only certain portions of the tag must not be obscured.”) Further, the Court of Appeals followed the logic of states that held that obstructions to the license plate do not have to be attached to the plate itself but include trailer hitches, bicycle racks, handicap chairs, u-hauls, campers, trailers, etc. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Hall County Trial Court’s ruling of the legality of the stop.
Thus, the door is opened to random vehicle searches of any car or truck with any thing attached to the rear obstructing any line of sight of the license plate. So much for the 4th Amendment.
-Author: George Creal