Yes, it is illegal and is an infraction.
Vehicle Code section 5200:
5200. (a) When two license plates are issued by the department for
use upon a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which
they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear.
(b) When only one license plate is issued for use upon a vehicle,
it shall be attached to the rear thereof, unless the license plate is
issued for use upon a truck tractor, in which case the license plate
shall be displayed in accordance with Section 4850.5.
And how to display them is in Vehicle Code section 5201:
5201. License plates shall at all times be securely fastened to the
vehicle for which they are issued so as to prevent the plates from
swinging, shall be mounted in a position so as to be clearly visible,
and shall be maintained in a condition so as to be clearly legible.
The rear license plate shall be mounted not less than 12 inches nor
more than 60 inches from the ground, and the front license plate
shall be mounted not more than 60 inches from the ground . . .
There are some exceptions for different commercial vehicles, but the bottom line is this: If you were issued two plates (as most passenger vehicles are), you're required to have 2 plates on your car.
It's a favorite reason for the police to use to pull you over. While it's typically a "fix-it" ticket and a small fee or fine, it can lead to much bigger problems if they think you've been drinking or otherwise want a reason to contact you.
My colleagues are correct. The problem many people have is that certain cars only have a place for a rear license plate. However, dealers have kits to put on the front plate at no charge when you buy a new car.
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You bet it is, got nailed for this one myself two months ago, luckily I was just given a fix it ticket, just make sure to get it signed off as corrected and pay the fine on time and it will not be that bad.
If you'd like to speak with an attorney, feel free to contact my office. http://www.cortrightandvalentine.com.
Disclaimer: Attorney's response does not create an attorney-client relationship. Attorney's response is not intended as legal advice and is intended for informational purposes only. Inquirer should seek the advice of a duly licensed attorney within that jurisdiction.