State v. Amator, 2022-NCCOA-293, ___ N.C. App. ___ (May. 3, 2022)

In this McDowell County case, the defendant appealed from a judgment finding her guilty of trafficking in methamphetamine. She was convicted based on the discovery of drugs found in her car during a traffic stop. On appeal, she argued that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress the evidence discovered during the traffic stop, contending that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop based on an alleged misplacement of her registration plate renewal sticker.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. Defendant was stopped for a violation of G.S. 20-66(c), which requires that the registration renewal sticker be displayed in the place prescribed by DMV. At the time the defendant was stopped, DMV had begun issuing single month/year renewal stickers, but had not updated administrative code provisions that required that separate “month and year stickers . . . be displayed on the plate in the correct position.” 19A N.C.A.C. 3C.0237 (2018). The registration card accompanying the single sticker instructed that the sticker be placed on the upper right corner of the plate; nevertheless, the defendant placed the sticker on the upper left corner of the plate. The Court held that the relevant law was ambiguous, that the officer relied on a quick reference guide and the instructions on the registration card in concluding there was a violation, and that this provided reasonable suspicion for the stop. If the officer was mistaken, the Court held, his mistake was reasonable.