Can the police run your license plate and discover that you do not have a license?

Asked over 1 year ago - Los Angeles, CA

Can the police run your license plate (while behind you) and discover that your license is suspended ?
Then pull you over as a result of there discovery?

Attorney answers (5)

  1. Greg Thomas Hill

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . No, but not because of any civil rights issue that you might believe. When police "run your plates," the name associated with the license plate is made available. This is the registered owner of the car. The registered owner of the car, however, is not the only person who might be driving the car.

    To make a traffic stop, an officer must, in general, witness a violation of the law. The officer must, in legal terms, have reasonable cause to believe he or she witnessed this. “Reasonable cause” means a “state of facts that would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe and conscientiously entertain an honest and strong suspicion that the person to be arrested is guilty of a crime.” People v. Ingle (1960) 53 Cal.2d 407, 412, 2 Cal.Rptr. 14. Even if such driving were deemed unusual, an officer may not make a traffic stop simply based upon unusual driving. Taylor v. DMV (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 812 (the officer’s subjective belief that a suspect’s driving is unusual is insufficient to support a traffic stop).

    Reasonable cause is measured by the totality of the circumstances as enunciated the U.S. Supreme Court in Illinois v. Gates (1983) 462 U.S. 214, 76 L. Ed. 2d 527, 103 S. Ct. 2317 and People v. Rosales (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 759, 768, 237 Cal.Rptr. 558. It is practical, common-sense decision that a fair probability exists that a crime has been committed. Rosales, supra.

    As one court said:
    If the defendant does not actually break the law, the officer’s mistaken belief that there had been a violation adds nothing to the probable cause equation. In other words, if an officer simply does not know the law, and makes a stop based upon objective facts that cannot constitute a violation, his suspicions cannot be reasonable. The chimera created by his imaginings cannot be used against the driver.
    See People v. Carmona (2011 DJDAR 7744).

    Bottom line: to make a traffic stop, the officer must see a violation of the law. The officer cannot witness driving on a suspended license without knowing who the driver is. Unless the officer knows what the registered owner looks like, the officer cannot pull you over.

  2. William A. Jones Jr.

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . Not directly in one step. Running the license plate will only inform the officer about title ownership of the vehicle. With that name an operator's license check could then be run which would show the suspension.

  3. Clifton L Black

    Contributor Level 12

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    Answered . They officer does not have enough probable cause to pull over the vehicle just because the registered owner is suspended. However, an office will try to justify the stop with other information. The officer can get a description of the suspended driver and compare that to the person driving the care. Although weak PC, officers do stop people with this information. You would want to get a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area to defend you. More often, an officer will follow a car long enough to observed some driving violation to pull the vehicle over.

    Marijuana is against federal law. Federal law supersedes state law. A person could be charged and convicted for... more
  4. Christine C McCall

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . All of the responses that have been offered here are sound and correct on the law. But in practice, reality is significantly more basic. As any former prosecutor will tell you, any cop who cannot discern probable cause to pull a moving car over within no more than 3 minutes of the initial observation has probably long-since transferred to a desk assignment. In some instances it will be operator (driver) conduct; in others it will be some defect or apparent defect in the functionality of the vehicle. There will virtually always be something that can be articulated by the time the articulation is necessary, i.e., when the report must be written.

    My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice.... more
  5. John Naumovski

    Pro

    Contributor Level 13

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    Answered . some attorneys here have stated probable cause would be necessary to allow for stopping a vehicle which is not correct. The standard is articuable and reasonable suspension that a crime is taking place and is lower burden compared to probable cause.

    the information provided above is for information purposes only and you should consult an attorney for specific... more

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