final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower
Tribunal No. 15-18797 Diane Ward, Judge.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Christina L. Dominguez,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellant.
Gonzalez & Herrera, P.A., and Manuel F. Herrera, Jr. and
Dennis Gonzalez, Jr., for appellee.
ROTHENBERG, C.J., and SALTER and LUCK, JJ.
license plates in Florida in 2015, "all letters,
numerals, printing, writing, and other identification marks
upon the plates regarding the word 'Florida, ' the
registration decal, and the alphanumeric designation shall be
clear and distinct and free from defacement, mutilation,
grease, and other obscuring matter, so that they will be
plainly visible and legible at all times 100 feet from the
rear or front." § 316.605(1), Fla. Stat. (2015).
The trial court found that the stop of defendant Marcelo
Pena's car based on the tag-obstruction statute was
illegal, and suppressed his confession and the search of his
car following the stop. We disagree that the stop was
illegal, and reverse, because the undisputed evidence was
that Pena's tag had a frame that obscured the word
"Florida" at the top of this plate, violating the
clear language of section 316.605(1).
Background and Procedural History
facts, found by the trial court, are not in dispute:
The State presented testimony from Officer Carl Sanabria of
the Miami-Dade Police Department. The officer testified that
he was working crime suppression in the Hammocks area in
plain clothes in an unmarked police vehicle when he observed
the Defendant's vehicle in traffic. The Defendant was not
the subject of an investigation at that time. The officer
observed that the rear license plate on the Defendant's
car had a metal frame which obscured the words
"MyFlorida.com" from the top portion of the license
plate and "Sunshine State" from the bottom portion.
A photograph of the license plate was introduced into
evidence by the State which showed a frame that is not unlike
many frames used by Florida drivers and provided by auto
dealers. Officer Sanabria acknowledged that this frame did
not obscure the identification number or decal number on the
license plate and was clearly visible at 100 feet. Believing
that this frame constituted a violation of Florida law, he
stopped the Defendant and issued him a citation. He further
testified that he smelled the order of marijuana from the car
as he approached it, however no marijuana was ever found.
Upon learning that the Defendant's license was suspended,
he arrested the Defendant for driving while license
suspended, in violation of § 322.34(2), Florida
Statutes. Officer Sanabria testified that he searched the
Defendant's car incident to his arrest and because he
smelled marijuana. He discovered a plastic bag containing
alprazolam pills. The Defendant was charged with Possession
with Intent to Sell, Manufacture or Deliver a Controlled
Substance, in violation of § 893.13(1)(A)(1), Florida
moved to suppress the statements he made, and the evidence
found in his car, following the traffic stop because the stop
based on the tag-obstruction statute was illegal.
trial court agreed that the traffic stop was illegal, and
granted Pena's suppression motion. The trial court
concluded it was bound by the holding of State
v. St. Jean, 697 So.2d 956 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997),
which the trial court described this way: "where a
county name on a license plate was obscured by a license
plate frame, this was not sufficient to show that the
defendant had committed a traffic violation, and thus the
police did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop the
defendant's car and evidence seized pursuant to that stop
was suppressed." The trial court analogized the obscured
county name in St. Jean to the obscured
"MyFlorida.com" and "Sunshine State" in
this case, and found that "St. Jean
specifically held that under circumstances presented in this
case the police did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop
the vehicle." Because St. Jean had not been
overruled by the Florida Supreme Court, "and in the
absence of interdistrict conflict, " the trial court
concluded it was bound by the district court's decision
in St. Jean.
state appeals the trial court's order granting Pena's
suppression motion. See Fla. R. App. P.
9.140(c)(1)(B) ("The state may appeal an order . . .
suppressing before trial confessions, admissions, or evidence
obtained by search and seizure . . . .")