Dealer Plate Defeats Charge of Attaching Unassigned Tag Alex Anderson (not his real name) was driving a fully restored 1978 Chevy down a public highway minding his own business. Unbeknownst to Alex was the practice of local law enforcement to stop white folks driving in a “black” part of Fort Pierce at about 11 in the evening. It did not matter to these law enforcement officers that Alex was driving on a State highway (Orange Avenue/SR 68), in a lawful manner and fully complying with all traffic laws.
This police practice of stopping vehicles in violation of the State and federal Constitutions goes by many names. Sometimes it is euphemistically referred to as “high intensity traffic enforcement”; and other times it is known as “weed and seed”. Most often, the police involved are violating their oath to serve and protect, and to uphold the Constitution. The officers involved, however, never seem to comprehend the unconstitutional intrusion which they are inflicting on ordinary citizens.
On this night, the police stopped Alex, because the vehicle did not have a license plate properly attached. Contrary to the police assertions, there was a “dealer plate” plainly displayed on the back of the vehicle – exactly where it was supposed to be.
Upon being stopped, Alex attempted to explain that he was an auto dealer; and that the vehicle was “for sale”. In fact, there were for sale signs plainly displayed on this restored, classic vehicle. The police ignored Alex’s explanation about the use of dealer tags
The police used this thin pretext to arrest Alex for the offense of attaching an unassigned tag which, the police asserted, was a violation of Section 320.261, Florida Statutes. The police then performed what they had wanted to do all along; and what appears to have been the primary purpose of the stop in the first place, to-wit: a thorough search of the car. Unfortunately, Alex had refused to give “consent” to search the vehicle. Having now placed Alex under arrest, the police were free to tear the car apart and bring the drug detection dogs.
Embarrassingly for the cops, there were no drugs and no alcohol. Alex was not impaired, his driver license was valid, and he produced proper evidence of insurance. Alex felt violated by the rude and condescending attitude of the police. He understood very clearly that these officers were prepared to violate the Constitution at their own whim and fancy.
A few days later, Alex retained Jeffrey H. Garland to address this criminal charge. After several minutes of google research, Attorney Garland located a 9/27/10 memorandum from Carl A. Ford, Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). The memorandum was directed to “all law enforcement agencies” and addressed the use of a dealer license plate in accordance with the requirements of Section 320.13(1)(a), Florida Statutes. After discussing the requirement that the dealer plate is valid for use on “motor vehicles owned by the dealer to whom such license plates are issued or in inventory or for sale, or while being operated in connection with such dealer’s business…”, the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles stated:
The above simply means that dealers may operate vehicles on the highways of Florida at any time for personal business so long as the vehicle is in inventory and for sale or while being operated in connection with such dealer’s business. Dealer license plates are not registered to any one vehicle and may be used on any vehicle in the dealer’s inventory. Also, dealers are not required to take title in their name for motor vehicles held in their inventory and for sale.
(Emphasis in original). Mr. Garland located a second memorandum from the Director of the Division of Motorist Services dated August 1, 2013, and also directed to “all law enforcement agencies”, which repeated the contents of the earlier memorandum.
Attorney Garland prepared a sworn motion to dismiss under the provisions of Rule 3.190(c)(4), Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. The motion asserted that the vehicle was held in the inventory and was “for sale”. The motion pointed out that the dealer plate was properly attached. The prosecutor failed to contest the statement of facts. The prosecutor chose, instead, to drop the charge by filing a nolle prosequi on 12/5/13, which was the day before the hearing on the motion to dismiss.
Law enforcement officers have jobs which, at times, can be difficult and dangerous. They should use all proper means at their disposal to enforce the laws consistently with their obligations under the Constitutions. Most of the time, officers attempt to perform their tasks in a professional manner. Sometimes, however, officers cross the line. In Alex’s case, the “system” worked properly by dropping the unwarranted charge.