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State v. Tregeagle

Court of Appeals of Idaho

February 3, 2017

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MARVIE JEAN TREGEAGLE, Defendant-Appellant.

         2017 Opinion No. 9

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Gerald F. Schroeder, District Judge. Hon. Thomas Watkins, Magistrate.

         Decision of the district court, on intermediate appeal from the magistrate, affirming the decision denying motion to suppress, affirmed.

          Anthony Geddes, Ada County Public Defender; John R. Shackelford, Deputy Public Defender, Boise, for appellant.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; John C. McKinney, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

          HUSKEY, Judge

         Marvie Jean Tregeagle appeals from the district court's decision, on intermediate appeal, affirming the magistrate's denial of her motion to suppress. Tregeagle asserts the district court erred when it affirmed the magistrate's denial of her motion to suppress because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion that the trailer ball hitch obstructing Tregeagle's license plate violated Idaho Code Section 49-428(2). Further, Tregeagle argues the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity because driving a vehicle in Idaho with a partially obstructed license plate is within the broad range of normal driving behavior. The State argues the license plate was not clearly visible in violation of I.C. 49-428(2), adopting the district court's reasoning. We affirm.

         I.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         During patrol, a police officer was traveling directly behind Tregeagle's GMC pickup. Tregeagle's pickup was equipped with a trailer ball hitch, which partially obstructed the license plate, and the officer was unable to read the two center digits of the license plate number. Based on his inability to read the license plate, the officer stopped Tregeagle. The officer testified that as he walked from his patrol vehicle to the driver's side window, he was able to read the license plate in its entirety from a distance of approximately ten feet. The officer testified the license plate was properly affixed to the vehicle's bumper and had no foreign matter attached to it. During the stop, the officer discovered marijuana in the vehicle.

         Tregeagle was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, I.C. § 37-2732(c)(3). Tregeagle filed a motion to suppress, arguing the officer's stop of her vehicle violated her Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. After a hearing, the magistrate denied the motion to suppress, reasoning Tregeagle violated the "clearly visible" requirement of I.C. § 49-428(2) when her trailer ball hitch partially obstructed the license plate. As such, the magistrate held the traffic stop was justified based on a violation of I.C. § 49-428(2). Tregeagle entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving her right to appeal the magistrate's denial of her motion to suppress.

         The district court, on intermediate appeal, affirmed the magistrate's denial of Tregeagle's motion to suppress. On intermediate appeal, Tregeagle argued the magistrate erred in finding the traffic stop was justified based on a violation of I.C. § 49-428(2) because the officer could read the entire license plate from approximately ten feet away, and the officer could have read the entire plate from his patrol vehicle if his patrol vehicle was taller. Additionally, Tregeagle argued the trailer ball hitch was not an after-market attachment or suspicious in its size or placement and the officer knew that having items attached to the back of a vehicle is normal and not indicative of criminal behavior in Idaho. Tregeagle also argued the officer's testimony that he had witnessed the obstruction of license plates by bike racks, horse trailers, and recreational vehicles, but sometimes chose not to detain them shows that the officer arbitrarily enforced I.C. § 49-428(2).

         The district court held that a plain reading of the statute required every vehicle license plate be displayed in a place and position that was clearly visible and in a condition to be clearly legible. Because all of Tregeagle's license plate was not clearly visible nor clearly legible at the time of the traffic stop, the district court concluded the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop Tregeagle for a violation of I.C. § 49-428(2). The district court also held Tregeagle cited no evidence in the record to support her assertion that partially or completely ...


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