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  • DMV records as only reason for traffic stop

    Hello all, I'm a six year city police officer in North Carolina. There seems to be conflicting views among supervisors in my dept about this topic. Some feel that it is wrong for us to pull a car over based only on DMV records. For example...I get behind a vehicle that is driving properly, for no particular reason I run the license plate and find that the car has an expired plate, no insurance or that the owner's DL has expired. I pull the car over before waiting to observe a moving violation and issue the appropriate ticket...

    Some supervisors feel that this is not only wrong, but a violation of civil rights. I haven't had this issue come up with me personally, but my Sgt happens to subscribe to this theory. I've always understood that, since driving is a privelage , your license plate is the property of the DMV and assigned to your car as identification for law enforcement purposes. The DMV in kind allows LE access to their records for the purposes of traffic enforcement. So how can pulling a car over based only on DMV records be wrong? Can anyone find case law that prohibits such a traffic stop, in any state? I would very much like to find concrete proof that this type of stop is perfectly legal, and put to rest some of the (IMO) off base opinions within my dept.

    Thanks for any of your input.

  • #2
    You have got to be kidding!!!! When I train new deputies I stress on them to make stops based on things like that. Unless the laws there are lots different then in Ks how can any supervisor say that is a civil rights violation with a straight face? The biggest interdiction haul of my career (150 lbs of marijuana) came because I ran a plate that came back as being 1 month expired. Being in a less populated area, we also are able to keep up fairly well with who is suspended, etc. That too is a good solid reason for a traffic stop. I feel for you if that is what your supervisors are telling you.
    the more laws, the less justice
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    • #3
      No, I'm not kidding! I just wish I could find something online that spells it out with no question. I'm posting here to see if anyone else can post a link that will prove me right if I ever have a problem with a supervisor down the road.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Orange Irish
        No, I'm not kidding! I just wish I could find something online that spells it out with no question. I'm posting here to see if anyone else can post a link that will prove me right if I ever have a problem with a supervisor down the road.
        In Georgia, there is case law where an officer ran a vehicle tag solely because it was from a different county. The officer then stops the car based on that information. An arrest follows and it is appealed to the State Supreme Court. The stop, arrest, and conviction were all upheld by our court. I'll see if I can find the case again.
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Orange Irish
          Some feel that it is wrong for us to pull a car over based only on DMV records. For example...I get behind a vehicle that is driving properly, for no particular reason I run the license plate and find that the car has an expired plate, no insurance or that the owner's DL has expired. Thanks for any of your input.
          I am not sure if its still on the books or not, but Arizona gave the officer the right to stop cars and check for registration and drivers license at will. That because as you say, its a privilege not a right.

          But I still have a hard time understanding why stopping a car based on a minimum of reasonable suspicion, i.e. the DMV tells you the tag is expired, would be a violation of rights?

          Is there anything in your state laws especially the traffic code that states an officer has the right to stop a vehicle on the roadway for registration or drivers license checks?

          I don't know of any state that does not allow officers to run the plates of vehicles based on the officer just seeing the plate and wondering whether or not its expired or even a valid plate.

          Besides, the vehicle plate is in plain view in a public place, what more can you ask for?
          Thinking must be hard work since so damn few people do it.
          --Henry Ford

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          • #6
            atl cop please find out about that , i just got burned on that by running tags on the MDT .i felt that it was not an intrusion or an arrest based on the fact that there was no seizure and no inconvience to the driver but i got a complaint by a guy who was stopped for no insurance .the powers that be advised me that i needed a reason to run a tag ,i still dont understand why any info would be appreciated.
            You have the right to remain silent...use it!

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            • #7
              I'm having problems with my internet connection tonight so I can't get to all of my resources. I believe I have some new case law which *specifically* says you can run a tag for any reason. However, this is the case I spoke about earlier:

              248 Ga. App. 132

              A00A2342. SINCLAIR v. THE STATE.

              RUFFIN, Judge.
              A jury found Lee Sweeney Sinclair guilty of entering an automobile with intent to commit a theft, obstruction, carrying a concealed weapon, and driving with a suspended license. [1] In two enumerations of error, Sinclair challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for entering an automobile. As the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict on this count, we affirm.

              On appeal from a criminal conviction, the defendant no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence, and we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict. [2] So viewed, the evidence shows that at approximately 5:00 a.m. on March 21, 1998, Macon Police Officer Robert Schwartz saw Sinclair driving a Jeep Cherokee with two passengers. Sinclair pulled into a convenience store parking lot and walked to a pay phone. Because the Jeep had an out-of-county license plate, Schwartz ran a computer check on the number and discovered that the Jeep had been reported stolen. After calling for backup, Schwartz approached Sinclair, told him the Jeep had been reported stolen, and searched him for weapons. As Schwartz patted Sinclair's pants pocket, he found a razor carpet knife, which, according to Schwartz, is commonly used as a weapon. Schwartz testified that, when he found the knife, "Sinclair turned on me. He turned, violently shifting, attempting to strike me and knock me down." While Schwartz was struggling with Sinclair, the two passengers fled. Sinclair eventually broke away from Schwartz, and Sinclair's pants pocket ripped. Schwartz, who had been holding on to the pocket, retained the knife as well as Sinclair's wallet, which contained an identification card.
              As Sinclair ran from Schwartz, several other police officers arrived and surrounded Sinclair, who was then taken into custody. The police later inventoried the contents of the Jeep and discovered several items that had been stolen from a Honda CRX during the night. According to Jamie Stanley, the owner of the Honda, she left her locked car in the parking lot of a motel on March 20, 1998
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              • #8
                If you'll notice, it is in the second paragraph where it says the tag was ran for out of county plates only. Also, if you work for Macon PD, you'll notice that this is out of your city.
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                • #9
                  There's MA case law on it also. I'll try and find it.
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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by tbl141
                    atl cop please find out about that , i just got burned on that by running tags on the MDT .i felt that it was not an intrusion or an arrest based on the fact that there was no seizure and no inconvience to the driver but i got a complaint by a guy who was stopped for no insurance .the powers that be advised me that i needed a reason to run a tag ,i still dont understand why any info would be appreciated.
                    The newest case out of Georgia Courts is Dawson. It was decided 1/6/2005. It is so new that I don't believe it is on the internet but I am trying to find it anyways.

                    The Dawson case was appealed with Dawson saying that "Articulable Suspicion" is required to run vehicle tags. The court rejected the argument and therefore no AS is required to run tags.
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                    • #11
                      Thanks for the replies, fellas. I have searched unsuccessfully on the web through NCDMV sites as well as searches under NC traffic law. I'm just not finding anything detailed or specific enough. I am currently awaiting a response from our PD's attorney, who is well respected throughout the department. When I find what I'm looking for, as I expect, I just might do squad training on it just to see the look on my Sgt's face. It will be well worth the low scores on my next evaluation.

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                      • #12
                        Dawson V. State (Court of Appeals)

                        Dawson's claim that officers did not have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting him of criminal activity sufficient to justify running the tag on the vehicle is meritless. n10 Dawson cites no authority in support of this claim and we find none.
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                        • #13
                          Somebody may be able to correct me if they have new case law, but I understand it this is a privacy issue which has been argued many times by defendants but as far as I know, never won.

                          The courts have upheld several times that a citizen has NO expectation of privacy when it comes to a license plate and law enforcement. I can't find the cases, but I know that there have been some challenges in which the DMV records ended up being wrong (i.e. you run a tag, it shows and insurance stop when in fact the defendant had insurance, you find dope on a consent search or P.C. search). The courts basically stated that officers have the right to run license plates to check for violations and the information returned by DMV (DCI or whatever it is called in your State) can be assumed to be true to the officer unless they discover evidence to the contrary during the stop. So if you stop the car because DMV says it has an insurance stop, you approach and they produce proof of insurance, then the stop should be ended at that point unless you have discovered something else that gives you enough suspicion to go farther with the stop.

                          The way I was taught in MDT school and DCI school (here in North Carolina) is that you can run any and all license plates that you see, as long as it is for law enforcement purposes (don't run it because she's hot). They stated that "law enforcement purposes" means many things...to see if everything is valid, make sure the car isin't stolen, even to see if the registered owner is revoked. A little further on that, I recently saw a case law that stated if you run a plate and discover that the owner is revoked, then if you have enough suspicion that the owner is the driver, you can stop the vehicle to investigate. Of course if the owner is a black male and a white female is driving, don't do it, use common sense here. I have gotten TONS of good charges by running every plate in front of me at a stoplight as I wait for it to change. I have never had one challenged nor have I heard of anybody around here having one challenged.

                          So to the original author of this thread, you are correct and your Sgt. is misinformed. If your city attorney can't get some case law for you, spend a few hours doing searches at www.findlaw.org . I know you'll find something that proves him wrong if you look hard enough. It makes me angry when those who are supposed to be leaders are misinformed and refuse to believe what their officers tell them. There are always people like that, there is one officer at my department who swears that a U-turn is in fact two separate left turns, and if you see a perp do it in front of a "No left turn" sign, you can charge them twice!

                          Keep fighting the good fight.

                          Gibbmusic
                          Okay, just how big were those two beers sir?

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                          • #14
                            Not only are random license plate checks good for getting expired tags but another way to recover stolen vehicles. I punch plates all day long looking for a stolen vehicle and I got one a couple of months ago, just by a random check. I wouldn't subscribe to your supervisor's theory at all...but that's just me.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Orange Irish
                              Hello all, I'm a six year city police officer in North Carolina. There seems to be conflicting views among supervisors in my dept about this topic. Some feel that it is wrong for us to pull a car over based only on DMV records. For example...I get behind a vehicle that is driving properly, for no particular reason I run the license plate and find that the car has an expired plate, no insurance or that the owner's DL has expired. I pull the car over before waiting to observe a moving violation and issue the appropriate ticket...

                              Some supervisors feel that this is not only wrong, but a violation of civil rights. I haven't had this issue come up with me personally, but my Sgt happens to subscribe to this theory. I've always understood that, since driving is a privelage , your license plate is the property of the DMV and assigned to your car as identification for law enforcement purposes. The DMV in kind allows LE access to their records for the purposes of traffic enforcement. So how can pulling a car over based only on DMV records be wrong? Can anyone find case law that prohibits such a traffic stop, in any state? I would very much like to find concrete proof that this type of stop is perfectly legal, and put to rest some of the (IMO) off base opinions within my dept.

                              Thanks for any of your input.
                              First off, your supervisor is an idiot. Having said that, you have absolutely NO obligation to spend any time or effort in finding any kind of case law supporting the legal validity of making a stop based on DMV records. Your supervisor is the one who is in need of a legal refresher, not you. I make stops based on running tags all the time, and I assure you it is perfectly legal. I'd just keep doing business as usual, and if your supervisor keeps giving you a hard time about it, tell him to talk with your department's police attorney, or to look it up himself. That's one thing that ****es me off real good, is when supervisors don't know what the hell they're talking about, especially when it comes to the law.
                              Aggression will save you when caution won't.
                              -Kent Anderson

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