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Can an officer run my licence plate for no reason?

Modesto, CA |

I was recently pulled over i asked the officer why i was being pulled over .. He told me that my registration was suspended...But the sticker and everthing that is visable is all up to date and legal... So he had to have run my plate to find out that it was suspended due to my laps on my insurance... and also i recieve a ticket for driving on suspended licence and proof of insurance... not suspended reg. And i had warrant in another county he let me go and impounded my car.. And he said he was not gunna put a 30 day hold on my car .. got it out next day.

And also no moving violation was involved.. he just ran my plates just because....

Attorney Answers 4


A police officer can pull your car over and detain you -- however briefly -- only with probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that you did it. There are a few exceptions, not relevant to your facts. By running your plate before he detained you, the police officer had probable cause to pull you over because of the info he learned when he ran your plate.

A police officer does not need any reason, much less probable cause, to run your plate as he did, without a prior detention. The law allows him to do just about anything to develop information if it does not cause a detention or other imposition on you.

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An officer can run your plates at any time. Just in the same sense that an officer could always look at your face and compare it with a "WANTED" poster. I know you're in California, but I just today read a recent case from Oregon on this exact issue of being pulled over after a random license plate scan.

Like I said, it's an Oregon case so it's discussing Oregon law, but the basic analysis would be the same in California.

Troy Pickard

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The police officer can run your plates. Regardless, you now have to deal with the suspended license, insurance matters- and other warrant. Which county is that warrant?
Call if you have questions.

Andrew Roberts
(805) 496-7777

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Sorry, but yes - they can run your plate for no reason. They often do.

But I'm confused - was your license suspended or was your registration out of date?

If your insurance wasn't in force and your driver's license was suspended, they would have to take a two-step process: Run the car and find out who the registered owner is, then run the owner to see the license status. If it was suspended, how do they know the driver is the same person?

Can they run the plate? Yes. Can they run the owner? Yes. Was this a valid stop? Maybe, maybe not. The fine is quite large on a suspended license charge if you're convicted and it can be charged as a misdemeanor, so it's worth discussing this matter, including the validity of the stop, with an attorney.

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