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Police Officers Running License Places Through LEADS

Discussion in 'Speeding Tickets, Traffic & Moving Violations' started by redwards1964, Oct 3, 2009.

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  1. redwards1964

    redwards1964 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Is it legal for Police officers to run license plates randomly to look for violations or violators? or do they need probable cause in Ohio? I had a suspended License and didnt know it, until i got pulled over. The police officer told me he found out by running my plate. it came back that the owner of the vehicle had a suspended license. On the good side, i didnt go to jail, but he did impound my truck.

    but i thought that the police had to have probable cause to run the plates? what if it had been a friend of mine driving my truck? would he have still pulled it over?

    Confusing isnt it?
     
  2. jharris352

    jharris352 New Member

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    How do you know he didn't have a reason to run your plates?
     
  3. redwards1964

    redwards1964 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I was the one driving. and i didnt make any violations of traffic law. i was wearing my seatbelt and used my turnsignal, and obeyed all the traffic laws. i asked him if there was any violations. he said NO.
     
  4. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    No reason needed. If you are on the road or parked on the street they can check your plate at any time. I do it constantly. I'll check a car just because it is in front of me. I happen to work in an area where it is not uncommon to find plates switched on vehicles or find expired plates with current (stolen) tags on them. Checking plates makes it easy to find a reason to make a stop.

    Anyway, no, there is no reason needed to run the plate. A violation is needed to make the traffic stop, and in this case the officer felt he had one.

    Check your laws in Ohio. Here in California that stop would have been bad, and you could possibly get reimbursed for the tow fee. The officer (from what you say here) did not witness a violation, and he did not know if the person driving the car was the person listed as the suspended driver. Here, an officer can't make a stop to check license status. To do it right, once he saw that your license was suspended, he should have found another violation to justify the stop. He may have done that and you just don't know it... but if he didn't, you can probably argue the bad stop. If you were just a couple mph over the limit, had something hanging from your rearview mirror, didn't signal... any little thing could justify the stop.

    Find out for certain what the reason for the stop was. You didn't get a citation, but the officer should have had to write something up regarding the towed vehicle. Wait a few days and see if you can get a copy of his report from the records department and see what he wrote. If there is nothing explaining his reason for the stop, and he did not write you a citation for another violation, then you can make a good argument. If he did make a note in the report for his reason for the stop then you are stuck.

    Your license will still be suspended, and you still won't be charged with anything, but you can at least try to recover the cost of the tow.
     
  5. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    Hmm.. didn't see your last post. If he told you straight out that there was no other violation and you didn't get a citation, then you can likely get reimbursed due to the bad stop. Making traffic stops to check license status is a no-no, and he had no way to know if you were actually the owner of the car with the suspended license.
     
  6. CdwJava

    CdwJava Moderator

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    Well, this is not universally true even here in CA.

    An officer in many jurisdictions here CAN use the suspended license status of the registered owner as articulable reasonable suspicion to detain the driver long enough to ascertain whether or not the driver is, indeed, the registered owner (and thus, suspended).

    Remember, the articulation needed for a detention is simply that which leads to a reasonable belief that criminal activity is "afoot." It is that reasonableness that an officer would rely on here. Is it not reasonable to assume that the registered owner is driving the vehicle? Certainly it is arguable, and this is why a number of places may not feel comfortable using this as good cause for a detention.

    However, having worked as a peace officer in CA for 18 years in three different jurisdictions, I can say that the validity of these stops for this purpose will vary by court, by individual DA or judge, and even by agency. The problem with running the registered owner is that it can be a lengthy process to narrow down the specific "John Smith" to which the vehicle is registered, and if the registered owner's vehicle address and license address don't match, your reasonable suspicion disappears. Since our registration requests do not include the birthdate or other identifying information on the R/O these can be kinda weak. That is why I suspect some courts do no like them.

    But, they are allowed in CA as they are not specifically exempted by any case law or statute I am aware of. While I have not personally done this, I know of a number of cases here in CA that were made as a result of these suspended R/O stops.

    - Carl
     
  7. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    The CA Vehicle Code specifically states police are not to make stops to check license status. Since police have no idea who is driving the car until they make the stop, I would assume the same is true in other states.
    Unless they recognize the driver and know them to have no license or a suspended license, they need another reason for the initial stop.

    VC 14607.6(b)

    The more I think about it, I can't imagine that this isn't the law in every state. There must be another violation to justify a stop. Making a stop to check license status, unless the driver is known to the officer and recognized from previous contact to be unlicensed, will open up a big can of worms. An initial stop without PC finds a suspended/unlicensed driver, which leads to a vehicle search, which leads to someone's stash of pot or the gun under the seat... to do it right, an officer with knowledge of a suspended license needs to find another violation. Follow any car down the road for 30 seconds and you can find something... if not then you just aren't trying.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2009
  8. CdwJava

    CdwJava Moderator

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    But that is not what the officer would be doing. The officer is not stopping someone at random to check license status, he is stopping the vehicle based upon an (arguably) articulated belief that a misdemeanor is being committed in his presence - the crime of driving on a suspended license.

    That section is ostensibly designed to prevent officers from doing random spot checks of driver's license status.

    If the officer is incapable of articulating the reasonable suspicion to justify the detention, then he should not do it. Otherwise, it is lawful in many/most jurisdictions in the state. There is no statute or case law prohibiting such detentions when otherwise lawful.

    Also, if you check the (a) subsection, you will see that the section deals with the impound and forfeiture o vehicles as a nuisance for prior misdemeanor convictions for unlicensed and suspended driving. The (b) section would seem to be there to prevent officers from fishing, such that he stops the driver out of curiosity only ... "Hmm ... Johnny Smith was convicted of unlicensed driving 6 months ago, I wonder if he is still unlicensed?" But, if the officer runs Johnny's 27 status through Dispatch and he finds out that Johnny IS unlicensed he can make the stop.

    - Carl
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2009
  9. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    I still don't like it... anyone could be driving that car. Wife, child, friend...
    If he doesn't see and recognize the driver and know that person to be unlicensed, then he is essentially making a random stop to check the license status.

    This is worth arguing in court as a bad stop to get the tow money back. Tows are expensive. The worst they can say is no.

    In Ca, VC 14607.6 clearly says that such stops are not to be done. It does say "unless" or list various exceptions. He will have to check Ohio's code for something similar.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2009
  10. CdwJava

    CdwJava Moderator

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    I did not say I "liked it" either. I only said it was legal and that it was acceptable practice in many (most?) jurisdictions in CA.

    But it is NOT random, though. It can be articulated reasonable suspicion. Remember the standard for CA (from CPOLS):

    For an investigative stop or detention to be valid, you must have "reasonable suspicion" that: (1) criminal activity may be afoot and (2) the person you are about to detain is connected with that possible criminal activity. (Wardlow (2000) 528 U.S. 119; Ornelas (1996) 517 U.S. 690, 695-696; Sokolow (1989) 490 U.S. 1, 7-8; Bennett (1998) 17 Cal.4th 373, 386.)

    To establish "reasonable suspicion," both the quality and quantity of the information you need is considerably less than the "probable cause" you need to arrest or search. (White (1990) 496 U.S. 325, 330; Bennett (1998) 17 Cal.4th 373, 387; Johnson (1991) 231 Cal.App.3d 1, 11.) "'[R]easonable suspicion' is a less demanding standard than probable cause and requires a showing considerably less than preponderance of the evidence. . . ." (Wardlow (2000) 528 U.S. 119, 123; Arvizu (2002) 534 U.S. 266, 274.)​


    We can lawfully detain people for walking through a dark alley in a business district ... no specific crime, but a lawful detention (if articulated properly). The suspicion is much stronger when you have a vehicle registered to a driver with a suspended license. Again, arguable by the defense, but I know of a number of cases that have been made using just that explanation and they have successfully survived appeal.

    Anything might be worth arguing. As I have no idea what Ohio's statutes are, I can't say whether they have a law that specifically exempts the random running of plates or not. I have heard of a couple of states that do have such prohibitions, but I do not recall that Ohio was one of them. But, you never know.

    - Carl
     
  11. redwards1964

    redwards1964 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    In Ohio some jurisdictions, have mobile LEADS terminals in their cruisers, along with dispatch and other data communication capabilities. This is why i was wondering if it was an abuse of the privilege of LEADS or an invasion of privacy, or even just plain wrong for the stop. because there was no traffic violation for the officer to stop the vehicle. ( i will point out here it was a night time stop and he could not see me until he got up to the window. the in cruiser computer terminal does pull up the driver's license picture so he could have identified me once he walked up to the vehicle.)
     
  12. CdwJava

    CdwJava Moderator

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    And here is some case law on point from the 9th Circuit a couple years back:

    http://caselaw.findlaw.com/data2/circs/9th/0630047p.pdf

    A deputy ran the plates of the vehicle in front of him, the registered owner came back suspended, the stop was made after the officer identified that the driver appeared consistent with the description of the registered owner.

    Now, here is the part that could jam officers up in CA - the similarity. If I run plates that come back to John Smith and the driver is clearly a female, the reasonable suspicion for the stop disappears. It might still be present at night, but this comes back to the proper articulation that gives rise to REASONABLE suspicion to believe the driver might be involved in criminal activity.

    - Carl
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2009
  13. CdwJava

    CdwJava Moderator

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    Ohio might have a statute that prohibits the random running of plates, but I doubt it. In my previous research on this topic, I seem to recall that every state in the union that has addressed the issue of running a license plate has ruled that it is not a search under the 4th Amendment and that no privacy rights apply. Now, that does not mean that Ohio permits the practice only that it is not a search.

    I suspect that this is likely legal, but you lose nothing except time and money bu challenging it in court.

    - Carl
     
  14. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    Well randomness is not in the equation anyway. The Vehicle Code just says that making stops to check license status is not to be done.

    VC 14607.6(b) A peace officer shall not stop a vehicle for the sole reason
    of determining whether the driver is properly licensed.

    I don't think that an assumption that the R/O of the vehicle is the one driving it amounts to reasonable suspicion. Many people own more than one car. They are driven by friends and family members as well as the R/O.
    In this scenario the officer did not have any reasonable suspicion and had no clue who was in that car. I realize reasonable suspicion is not a very high bar to clear, but when the code specifically says "do not do this" then it ought not to be done.

    I certainly understand your point though. I am just giving more weight to the code and its lack of exceptions than you are.
     
  15. NY_Shark

    NY_Shark New Member

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    The NY state troopers now have similar "plate readers." This all hinges on 4th amendment rights and the reasonable expectation of privacy. Court after court has decided that citizens have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their license plates. They are constantly right out in the open, on public thoroughfares, for the whole community to see.

    On the bright side, and maybe this makes you feel better redwards (or maybe not), in April the US Supreme Court ruled in Arizona v. Gant that being pulled over for a traffic violation does not give the officer carte blanche to search the car, as so often was the practice under New York v. Belton.
     
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  16. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    There is the difference in this example. The deputy was able to make a visual identification (by whatever means). The knowledge of the suspension plus identification of the driver prior to the stop... I can see that holding up.

    In our scenario we have an officer stopping an unknown with no information other than a computer telling him the owner of the car has a suspended license. He does not know who is in the car.
     
  17. CdwJava

    CdwJava Moderator

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    You are missing the point, it is neither random, nor is it solely to check the license status of the driver. By your interpretation, if I see a driver operating a vehicle and I KNOW him to be unlicensed I cannot stop him because I would be stopping him solely to check his license status!

    If you do not want to make these stops, that's fine. If your agency, your local DA, or your local court do not want you doing them, that is also fine. But, it is just not true that they are prohibited. There is ample case law - including one from the 9th that I linked before - that says that they ARE lawful with proper articulation pursuant to the law.

    Heck, the Vehicle Code also says that an obstructed plate is a violation, yet the San Diego Traffic Courts once told us that they would no longer accept citations for that violation nor would they accept that as reasonable suspicion for a detention. That did not mean the law was bad, only that the local court had determined that they felt that trailer balls were not within the meaning of the section and were not some sort of permanent obstruction to the plate.

    And that's fair. You can hold that opinion. However, many courts in this state - including the 9th Circuit (a federal court) holds a different opinion and it is those opinions that are legally binding.

    I, too, do not feel comfortable stopping a vehicle based upon that scant information and have never done so. But, I know that it is legal should I ever have to do so and that my county courts will go along with it so long as I provide proper articulation to meet the requirements of reasonable suspicion.

    We do not know that Ohio has any such prohibition. And if you are referring to the 14607.6 code, I submit that you are reading too much into it. There is a difference between pulling someone over solely to check their license status and pulling someone over under the reasonable belief that they are driving suspended. One is sheer guess work and unlawful under a number of legal theories as well as the CVC, the other is legally permitted.

    You have to weigh the codes in context. You are certainly free to interpret the section that way, and it is a safe bet to do. But, as the courts have routinely decided that it is lawful - 14607.6 not withstanding - I have to go along with the interpretation that the section is meant to apply to a stop that lacks reasonable suspicion and is performed solely to go fishing and check for a license ... sort of a detention to ask for one's papers.

    - Carl
     
  18. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    Not at all. If you see the person and "know" from previous information or contacts that he is unlicensed/suspended, then you are not stopping to check the status- you are stopping to cite/arrest.

    I wasn't able to access that as I'm not registered on findlaw... what is the case name?

    The court choosing not to prosecute is different than a state code specifically prohibiting an act. As long as an obstructed plate is listed as a violation then it is good for a stop, but that doesn't prevent the court from dismissing it for whatever reasons.

    You and I both know you could make stops like that all day long and nothing would come of it, but the time that you do it and you happen to find the murder weapon on the seat from the shooting that just went down around the corner... it will be the first and last time you ever see that evidence.

    That is the difference in our opinions here. I am saying there is no reasonable suspicion since the driver is unknown. As you put it, the officer essentially IS fishing. All we know is that the owner is unlicensed with no way to know if that person is even in the vehicle, or even in the state. If we had identified the driver as they drove past or at least seen enough to believe it was the right person, then it would be legit.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2009
  19. redwards1964

    redwards1964 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    i knew about the plate readers, as i have read about those in use in this state, but mostly on the turnpikes. so i was a little unsure as to my question to begin with. my main question was about him stopping me just because he ran the plate. after all, he didnt know if it was me in the truck, or a friend of mine. he couldnt see, it was night time. thank you officers and any legal professionals who have answered my questions. you have been very helpful. if anyone needs further info i will check this thread everyday and answer any further questions, or keep the thread active as needed. again thanks.
     
  20. NY_Shark

    NY_Shark New Member

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    Once the reader came back with a hit, he had probable cause to pull the vehicle over and question the driver.
     

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