Georgia criminal defense lawyer wins reversal of drug conviction of a Walton County man due to improper traffic stop

The Court of Appeals of Georgia recently had to determine if a suspect could be briefly detained where the facts showed that he was driving slowly and looking into the woods of an area where an alleged car thief was hiding. The court held that on these facts alone a person could not be detained.

In Thomas v. State, the defendant, Thomas, was convicted of possession of methamphetamine, possession of a firearm during a crime, and obstructing a police officer. The facts showed that a man by the name of Morris stole a car and abandoned it at a house on Penland Road in Walton County. Police believed that Morris then went to hide in the nearby woods.

An officer saw Thomas in his truck driving very slowly along the same road while looking into the woods as if trying to find someone. Thomas apparently stopped and continued driving very slowly several times. The officer ran Thomas’ tags and discovered that Thomas lived near Morris. This led to the officer stopping Thomas’ truck. While approaching Thomas, the officer saw a cell phone in Thomas’ hands and took the phone after Thomas refused to hand it over. The officer searched the call history and saw Morris’ number. Thomas explained that he was looking for pulp wooders. The officer then asked Thomas to get out of the truck so that the officer could take a picture of Thomas, but Thomas refused. As a result, the officer arrested Thomas for obstruction. A gun was found in the truck, and meth was later found on Thomas at the jail.

The encounter between Thomas and the officer was a second tier encounter. This is where an officer may briefly detain a suspect if the officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that a person is involved in criminal activity. Here, the court reasoned that Thomas had not broken any traffic laws, presented a valid license, and explained that he was looking for pulp wooders. Thus, the court held that his arrest for refusing to get out of the truck to be photographed was illegal. Moreover, the evidence found after the arrest should have been suppressed.

Our criminal defense lawyers have also won many drug and weapons cases due to police officers executing illegal stops of persons and vehicles. In our experience, there is almost always a question of whether a stop was lawfully conducted any time drugs or weapons are found on a person or in a vehicle. To challenge a stop that reveals contraband, a criminal defense attorney must be able to argue that the officer had no legal reason to detain or arrest the person and that consent was not given. An experienced criminal attorney will do this by conducting a battery of assessments which may include reviewing police and witness statements, obtaining police video recordings, and analyzing any form of technology which led to the stop such as radar, laser, sensors, taps or dog sniffs.

Pate & Brody is an accomplished Georgia law firm with offices in Atlanta, Macon and Madison. Our lawyers are dedicated to pursuing justice for people charged with serious crimes. We have successfully represented clients facing serious federal criminal charges and state criminal charges in courts across Georgia. Our lawyers have been recognized on the list of Georgia’s “Super Lawyers”, and included among Georgia’s “Legal Elite” by Georgia Trend Magazine. Page Pate was recently the Chairman of the Criminal Law Section of the Atlanta Bar Association.


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