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Weaver v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

December 20, 2017

SHARON MARIE WEAVER, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Chet A. Tharpe, Judge.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Robert D. Rosen, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Wendy Buffington, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          CASANUEVA, JUDGE.

         Sharon Marie Weaver challenges the denial of her motion to suppress, which she preserved for appeal when pleading guilty on one count of operating an unregistered vehicle and one count of possession of a controlled substance. We conclude that the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress was erroneous and reverse.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 14, 2016, Ms. Weaver was stopped because the license plate on the vehicle she was driving did not match the vehicle. According to the arresting officer, Ms. Weaver explained when questioned "that her friend attached the tag to the vehicle so that she was able to drive it." The officer arrested Ms. Weaver for attaching a license plate not assigned to that vehicle. A search of Ms. Weaver incident to arrest revealed that she was in possession of amphetamine. Ms. Weaver was ultimately charged with possession of a controlled substance and operating an unregistered vehicle, § 320.02(1), Fla. Stat. (2015), rather than attaching a license plate not assigned, § 320.261.

         Ms. Weaver moved to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to the arrest and search incident to arrest, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest because the officer did not observe her attach the license plate to the vehicle. Thus, she argued, the warrantless arrest for a misdemeanor committed outside the presence of the officer was illegal. The State argued that Ms. Weaver's statement to the officer combined with the officer's observations were sufficient to provide probable cause to arrest. The trial court denied the motion.

         Ms. Weaver entered an open plea following the denial of the motion to suppress, reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion. She was sentenced to forty-eight months' probation.

         II. ANALYSIS

         "When reviewing a motion to suppress, the standard of review for the trial court's application of the law to its factual findings is de novo, but a reviewing court must defer to the factual findings of the trial court that are supported by competent, substantial evidence." Bautista v. State, 902 So.2d 312, 313-14 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005) (quoting Cillo v. State, 849 So.2d 353, 354 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003)).

         Ms. Weaver was arrested for unlawfully attaching a license plate not assigned to the vehicle she was driving, in violation of section 320.261. Pursuant to section 320.261,

Any person who knowingly attaches to any motor vehicle or mobile home any registration license plate, or who knowingly attaches any validation sticker or mobile home sticker to a registration license plate, which plate or sticker was not issued and assigned or lawfully transferred to ...

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