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State v. Blueback

Court of Appeals of Oregon

May 16, 2018

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ANTHONY WAYNE BLUEBACK, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted April 26, 2017

          Jefferson County Circuit Court 15CR09474 Gary Lee Williams, Judge.

          Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, and Vanessa McDonald, Deputy Public Defender, Offce of Public Defense Services, fled the brief for appellant.

          Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General, and Jeff J. Payne, Assistant Attorney General, fled the brief for respondent.

          Before DeHoog, Presiding Judge, and Aoyagi, Judge, and Haselton, Senior Judge.

         Case Summary: Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for criminal driving while suspended or revoked, ORS 811.182. He assigns error to the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence discovered after an officer pulled him over for failing to display a front license plate on his pickup truck, in violation of ORS 803.540(1)(b), which requires that registration plates "be displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle if two plates are required." Defendant argues that the failure to display a front license plate does not violate that statute, because no law "require[s]" two plates. Held: The trial court did not err, because the statutory context of ORS 803.540 establishes that "two plates are required" for vehicles such as defendant's pickup truck.

         Affirmed.

          [291 Or.App. 780] DEHOOG, P. J.

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for driving while suspended or revoked, ORS 811.182(4).[1] He assigns error to the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence discovered after an officer pulled him over for failing to display a front license plate on his pickup truck, which the officer considered a violation of ORS 803.540. Defendant argues that the officer lacked probable cause to justify a traffic stop because, he contends, the failure to display a front license plate does not violate that statute or any other law. We conclude that ORS 803.540 required defendant to display a front license plate on his pickup truck and, accordingly, affirm.

         The facts are few and undisputed. An officer observed defendant driving a pickup truck that displayed an Oregon license plate to the rear but that did not have a front license plate. The officer pulled defendant over, believing that defendant's failure to display a front license plate violated ORS 803.540.[2] During the traffic stop, the officer discovered that defendant's driving privileges were suspended, and the state subsequently charged defendant with misdemeanor driving while suspended or revoked, ORS 811.182(4). Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the traffic stop, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to stop him because, he contended, ORS 803.540 does not require vehicles to display front license plates. The trial court denied defendant's motion, after which he entered a conditional guilty plea and appealed, assigning error to the denial of his motion to suppress.

         Under Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution, a police officer may not initiate a stop to investigate a suspected traffic violation unless the officer has probable cause to believe that a violation has occurred. State v. Husk, 288 Or.App. 737, 739, 407 P.3d 932 (2017), rev den, 362 Or. 665');">362 Or. 665 [291 Or.App. 781] (2018). Probable cause includes both a subjective and objective component: The officer must subjectively believe that a traffic violation has occurred, and that belief must be objectively reasonable. Id. "'[A]n officer's subjective belief that a traffic infraction occurred is objectively reasonable if, and only if, the facts as the officer perceived them actually satisfy the elements of a traffic infraction.'" State v. Jones, 286 Or.App. 562, 564, 401 P.3d 271 (2017) (quoting State v. Tiffin, 202 Or.App. 199, 203-04, 121 P.3d 9 (2005)).[3]

         Defendant's appeal implicates only the objective component of probable cause. Thus, we must determine whether the trial court erred in concluding that defendant's failure to display a front license plate "actually satisf[ied] the elements of a traffic infraction." Id. We review that legal conclusion for errors of law. Husk, 288 Or.App. at 739.

         Here, the officer believed that defendant had violated ORS 803.540, which provides, in part:

"(1) A person commits the offense of failure to display registration plates if the person operates, on the highways of this state, any vehicle or camper that has been assigned registration plates by this state and the registration plates assigned to the vehicle or camper ...

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