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Legality of running a car's plates for no reason

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  • Legality of running a car's plates for no reason

    First some background.....

    For some reason a serious warrant was put out for either my car or just the licence plate. My dad got pulled over by the CHP for expired registration and cops walked toward the car slowly with their hands on their guns. My dad said they looked like they expected him to dive out of the car with a .45 in each hand just like in all those John Woo movies. When they got close enough to see what my dad looked like they relaxed and asked if he knew anyone named Poindexter because there was a warrant out for his arrest. That was all the info my dad got so I'm assuming the warrant has my car down as his car. The DMV knows the car is mine so I don't know how my car got assoicated with him.

    Ok here's the story: So we decided to go get new plates from the DMV but I have a habit of procrastinating hence the expired tags, which I fixed the next day. About a week later I got pulled over and the officer actually radioed in "Suspect not present" as soon as he got to my window. The only reason he pulled me over was because my plates showed a warrant. After running my licence he became extremly apologetic about pulling me over. So apologetic I had the sense that what he did was against regulations.

    Can police run plates with out any reason? Being stuck at a red light is boring so I'd expect a cop to run plates of the person in front of him just for something to do.

  • #2
    Courts have ruled you have no expectation of privacy when it comes to your registration plates. Officers can run them without the need for any suspicion. It's a good tool for proactive police work.

    BTW, our Former Chief wanted to require that officers fill out a form every time they ran a tag through DMV. [Eek!] The assistant chiefs horse-laughed him. Fortunately, he moved west to a bigger paycheck...... Sorry Piper.


    • #3
      When I went through the academy in 1989, we were 'cautioned' against running plates 'for no reason'. However, I do it daily in my current LEO capacity. RARELY is there 'no reason'....and OCCASIONALLY I'll 'get lucky' and get a hit.

      Whre 'problems' develop is when someone sees a hottie driving and wants to know a bit more about her....

      As you mentioned, the officer that pulled you over radioed 'suspect not present', which, IMO, implies he DID have a valid reason for running your plates to start with. It could have been as simple as your vehicle matching a BOLO.

      FWIW, I ALWAYS log every plate I run...sort of a CYA thing I have developed.


      • #4
        My dad got pulled over by the CHP for expired registration and cops walked toward the car slowly with their hands on their guns.
        Nothing wrong with that, other than it offends some people, which is no big deal to me. It is NOT a violation of law or policy (at least with my agency or any I've worked for.) For the CHP, I'd say that is the way it should be done.

        Can police run plates with out any reason?
        I've never ran one for "no reason." Wanting to know who it is registered to is a reason.


        • #5
          This has been a topic of debate around my dept. for a little while. Now, our legal advisor is telling us that a vehicle that comes back registered to a warranted/wanted person is NOT PC for a traffic stop.

          However, if you then look at the driver and they match the description of the wanted person then PC exists. Or, you can always just wait for a traffic violation (which you can always find) and then stop the car.

          None of this has been decided it a courtroom but it's our legal advisors "expert" opinion. We're hoping to have a case that will actually render a judgement on this soon.

          Anything goes as far as running tags you see as long as the information obtained is for professional purposes.


          • #6
            I figured it might fall under needing probable cause but even that seemed like a stretch. I could tell the local sheriffs were always disapointed when they found out the warrant was a mistake because I used to come out from my apartment and see tickets for weird things like "obscured vin number".

            Here's a second question. How often do mistakes like this come up? The California DMV is no beacon of efficency but they seem to screw this up ofter. I had to go to court to say that I didn't get into a accident and that my red 88 Taurus was not, and had never been a yellow 86 Mustang. Guess there was a hit and run up in Modesto and either the DMV of the local police screwed up and had my car as the suspect even it was obviously a mistake because the color and models were different.


            • #7
              It's possible that whoever witnessed an accident or incident transposed a couple of letters or numbers and they wound up with yours.

              Human error, most likely.


              • #8
                Originally posted by THE BRONZE:
                [QB]Courts have ruled you have no expectation of privacy when it comes to your registration plates. Officers can run them without the need for any suspicion. It's a good tool for proactive police work.


                I run plates all the time. I love to run traffic as a means of getting arrests. Rarely do we put any tags on a plate unless the plate or the car the plate is registered to is stolen.

                I almost always run plates hanging on with one bolt or in a car window. Seems the plates in the window lead to a good stopping charge 70% of the time.


                • #9
                  Attractive females who smile at you as they drive by have been known to have their plates run on my job.

                  Of course, I have never done this.


                  • #10
                    My understanding of the law in this area is the same as that expressed by Chief Wiggum. An officer can run a license plate for any reason or no reason at all because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a license plate. If the license plate returns with a warrant, the officer can only stop the car if the physical descriptors on the warrant match the driver of the vehicle.


                    • #11
                      In Los Angeles County, there is a warrant system known simply as "County Wide System" (or CWS). Any law enforcement agency within the county can enter a warrant in this system; in fact, it's pretty much assumed that any valid warrant entered by any LE agency within the county (except Federal) will be found in CWS. Depending on the charge and how much the agency is willing to spend on extradition, the warrant can also be entered into the statewide warrant system (Wanted Persons System, or WPS) as well as NCIC.

                      The unique thing about CWS, that WPS/NCIC doesn't have, is the ability to attach minor warrants to license plates (the only way to do so with the others is to enter the vehicle as "stolen" or "felony vehicle"). So, let's say you are driving a car with CA license plate 4ABC123 when you get pulled over for running a red light. You get issued a ticket, but fail to appear in court. Not only is there now a warrant for your arrest in the system, but every time CA license plate 4ABC123 is run, that warrant will pop up. When the warrant is removed from the system (which is done by the courts), the "flag" goes away.

                      Sideshow, you didn't mention if you bought your car new or used, but if you are not the first owner of the car, most likely "Poindexter" was either the previous owner, or borrowed the car from a previous owner. Just because the car was subsequently sold doesn't make the warrant go away.

                      If you're wondering why DMV didn't tell you about the warrant, it's because CA DMV doesn't have access to the CWS system. In fact, DMV doesn't have access to the CA stolen vehicle database (SVS) either, but any vehicle entered as "stolen" or "felony vehicle" also has a "DOJ Stop" flag entered into the DMV record.

                      Most likely, in your father's case the CHP officer may not have run the plate first. He saw the expired tag, called it into dispatch, and as he's walking up to the car (or perhaps before he even got out of his) the dispatcher advised him of the warrant.

                      However, to answer your question, yes it's legal for us (at least in CA) to randomly run plates, as long as it's done for official purposes (i.e. not to get the name and address of the cute blonde in the Miata). However, even it wasn't legal, since you admitted that your license was expired, the CHP officer had every right to run your plate, to verify if it was indeed expired, rather than a case of an owner forgetting to put his current stickers on, or even the stickers having been stolen.

                      To answer your question about the supposed hit and run: for whatever stupid reason that I have yet to get answered by a DMV employee, CA DMV REFUSES to put down the model of the car on the DMV record. So, if I run your license plate, all I know is year, make, body type (sedan, coupe, station wagon, pickup, etc.), VIN, current owner, lienholder (if any), and date of registration expiration. The only way I can tell what model a car is by the DMV record is to compare the VIN with a book used by auto theft investigators. When people report any info regarding a car, we're lucky if the person knows what kind of car it is, much less a model and especially year.

                      If someone tells me the car I'm looking for is a mid to late 80's Mustang license 4ABC123, and that license plate returns to an 88 Ford sedan (technically the Mustang is a sedan, not a coupe even though it's a 2 door), unless proven otherwise it appears on the surface to be the correct license plate. The fact that DMV also omits color descriptions makes things even more difficult. Also, few people can tell the difference between an '86 and '88 Mustang, even though there are significant styling differences between the two. Only follow-up investigations can confirm the suspect vehicle, or clear it.

                      [ 02-26-2003, 01:46 AM: Message edited by: Sig220Man ]


                      • #12
                        If i'm bored and there's nothing going on, if i see an unusual out of state tag i'll run it. Or a tag that has letter combinations that are unusual i'll run them too. lol.

                        I like the idea of tags in the window, running them. But there are so many down here that do that, just out of laziness i guess.


                        • #13
                          Thanks for all the info guys. Guess the police officer was just being a nice guy.


                          • #14
                            Up here, we can stop any vehicle at any time, and for no more excuse than to check for valid licence and registration.

                            During any check of any vehicle, subject or property, for whatever reason, it is a common, but sometimes overlooked by some investigators, practice to check the licence plate and/or VIN, the subject and the property's serial number/unique identifier, on CPIC (Canada's version of NCIC). We can also check NCIC.

                            CPIC has the advantage of ALWAYS being able to cross-reference a vehicle (by VIN and LP, with full make/model/style/model year/colour descriptors) that was used by, or is known to be associated to, a person who has been entered as being Wanted, on Parole, on Probation, or Prohibited (firearms, driving, hunting). The vehicle is known as a Pointer Vehicle.

                            Further, land, air and water craft, cash, negotiable financial instruments, identification, other property (with a serial number or other unique identifying alpha/numeric code) can be entered as Stolen, Lost or even Recovered/Impounded, and the person to whom it belongs (usually only for ID documents) or who is suspected of having stolen it, or otherwise is believed to have been associated to it, can be entered as a Pointer Person.

                            This way, if you query the VIN, LP, serial number or other unique identifying code of a vehicle, boat, plane or other property, you can find out if it is associated to a person who has Warrants for their arrest or is otherwise of interest to the police. Or, you can find out if the person you are checking may be suspected of having stolen property that you may not otherwise think of querying.

                            CPIC query responses can be viewed by any LEO/PO in Canada, or the entry may be restricted for view only within the Province where the offence occurred. Province-wide restriction is usually for Warrants for Provincial Statute offences, since they can not be executed in another Province. Even for Warrants for the majority of Criminal Code or Federal Statute offences, although the entry can be viewed anywhere in Canada, the Agency that entered the file on CPIC will NOT authorize execution of the Warrant, and thus the escort costs associated with returning the subject to their point, in another province.

                            Bottom line, a person operating a motor vehicle on or in a public place in Canada has NO expectation of privacy vis-a-vis an LEO/PO driving by, seeing their LP and either radioing it in to their dispatcher, or using their MWS directly, to check the plate and/or owner for outstanding Warrants or other files of interest by another LEO/PO.


                            • #15
                              In the UK we do not need a reason to stop a motorist, let alone check a registration/number (licence) plate on the Police National Computer (PNC).

                              Indeed much use is now being made of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). These are cameras attached to a computer with a direct link to the PNC which can read hundreds of number plates per hour. When you get a hit an audible warning is sounded and the offending vehicle is stopped for further investigation. This system leads to the recovery of stolen vehicles and other arrests based on information supplied to officers e.g outstanding warrants as well as numerous traffic matters and other offences.



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