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In a recent decision, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction of a man charged with felony drug trafficking after the trial court denied his pretrial motion to suppress evidence of the drugs after an unconstitutional search of his vehicle.  In the case, a police officer observed the defendant driving a bright green car.  The officer then ran the car’s tag number and learned that the plate was registered to a blue car of the same make.  Based only on this color inconsistency, the officer pulled the car over and interviewed the defendant.  The officer noted the smell of marijuana and searched the defendant and the car, recovering marijuana and crack cocaine from the car.  The defendant was charged with trafficking in cocaine, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Before trial, the criminal defense attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence of the drugs as an unlawful search and seizure and argued that the color inconsistency alone was not a sufficient basis to justify the investigative stop of the vehicle.  During the hearing on the motion, the officer admitted that the only thing out of the ordinary was the color of the vehicle being different from the registered information on file with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.  The trial court denied the motion and the defendant was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Concluding that changing the color of a vehicle is not itself illegal and that the State does not require an owner to report a change in a vehicle’s color, the appeals court held that the color discrepancy alone was not a sufficient basis to justify an investigative stop and that evidence of the drugs seized should have been suppressed.

If you have questions about a criminal law matter, contact an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case.