Thursday, July 5, 2007

Another Bad Traffic Stop in Texas

I received three calls this week from potential clients who were stopped by Brazos County police officers for not having a license plate attached to the front bumper of their cars. Rather, each had their license plate wedged between the dashboard and the windshield, which was visible from the front of the vehicle. Each had incriminating evidence seized by the police and each face criminal charges from DWI to marijuana possession. Each caller was comforted as I explained how the following law applied to their case.

Texas Transportation Code section 502.404(a) requires that a motor vehicle "display two license plates, at the 'front' and rear of the vehicle." Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 502.404(a). The code does not define the "front" of a vehicle.

In State v. Losoya, 128 S.W.3d 413 (Tex. App. - Austin 2004, pet. ref'd) the Court of Appeals decided an issue very similar to that of my callers. In Losoya, the police testified they had noticed a pickup did not have a license plate mounted on the front bumper. Instead, the plate was wedged between the dashboard and windshield. As a result, the police stopped the vehicle believing a traffic violation had occurred. At the suppression hearing the police officer added he could see the license plate in the truck's front window.

The court found the term "front" ambiguous and looked to other factors to determine the meaning of the code section. The court said:
"While a place to display the license plate is usually found on the front bumper, the statute does not expressly require the use of this location. The display of the plate in some other place or manner is not inconsistent with the language or purpose of the statute. The officers testified that they could see the license plate in the windshield. We conclude that Losoya's display of his front license plate in the manner shown here did not violate section 502.404(a) as to give the officers grounds to reasonably suspect a violation of that statute."
Each of my callers should benefit from the decision in Losoya. Each detention should be challenged by a motion to suppress evidence based upon an illegal traffic stop. If the facts are close to those in Losoya, they should prevail and the incriminating evidence obtained by the police should be excluded from each case.


Anonymous said...

Spence v. State

Tex. Crim. App.
September 16, 2010

The Criminal Court of Appeals granted review to resolve a conflict between courts of appeals regarding whether a license plate must be displayed at the front (e.g., the front bumper) of a car or whether it is sufficient to be displayed somewhere else, such as inside the front windshield. It concluded that the plain language of Texas Transportation Code §502.404(a) requires that a license plate be displayed at the foremost part or front of a vehicle, most commonly the front bumper. Criminal Court of Appeals, No. PD-1458-09, 09-16-2010

Stephen Gustitis said...

You are right, Anon! Now it's a good traffic stop!

Sheri said...

Okay, so am I to understand that now (2011), the plate has to be on the front bumper?

Was pulled over tonight for this very thing. My front bumper is screwed up so the plate was in the front windshield/dash area. Been like that for 2 years, never stopped until tonight, and I was told before (by people at title office) that this display was okay.

Nothing "bad" came of the stop but suspect it was a bs stop and was just curious.

Stephen Gustitis said...

No BS. Yours was a good traffic stop. Cops were hoping to catch you drunk or smoking pot.