In Florida, Even if All of the Unique Numbers and Letters on Your License Tag Are Visible, Police Can Still Stop You For an Obscured License Tag

In Florida, most DUI cases (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) cases start after a police officer pulls a driver over for a routine traffic violation. The police officer then approaches the driver, claims to observe signs of intoxication and then conducts a DUI investigation. If the police officer subjectively believes the driver is impaired from alcohol, or just does not like the driver’s responses or level of cooperation, the police officer will likely arrest that driver for DUI.

One traffic violation that gets people pulled over is having a license plate that is fully or partially obscured. Every vehicle in Florida is supposed to have a license plate, and the unique numbers and letters on that license plate are the numbers and letters that identify specific vehicles and their owners. Police officers use these numbers and letters to identify owners to check on suspended licenses, outstanding warrants, stolen vehicles and other information. If a person has a license plate where those numbers and letters are even partially concealed, the police officer may not be able to run the license plate in his/her system. This raises suspicion and is against the traffic laws of Florida. Whether a part of the numbers and letters are concealed or the license tag is faded or covered with some protector that makes it too hard to read, a police officer can pull a driver over for this and initiate a DUI or other criminal investigation if he/she observes evidence of a particular crime. Or, the police officer can just give the driver a traffic ticket for the problematic license plate.

The key information on license plates in Florida is the unique numbers and letters. However, license plates in Florida have other lettering as well. Some have the website on there or convey some message if it is a specialty license plate. Some have the name of the county. These numbers and/or letters have no value to a police officer trying to identify registration information on the vehicle. If the letters “ars” on a Jacksonville Jaguars specialty license plate are concealed, that obviously has no relevance to anything the police need to do their jobs and is not suspicious in any way.

Can the police in Florida pull over a driver for this traffic violation if such irrelevant lettering or numbers are concealed but the key numbers and letters are clearly visible? In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police pulled over a driver because he had a border from the vehicle manufacturer on his license plate that partially covered the letters. The police officer pulled him over and ultimately arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to throw out any evidence obtained after the stop because the police officer did not have the legal right to pull the defendant over for such a harmless obstruction on his license plate. The court ruled that the traffic stop was legal. The court noted that this did not make much sense, but the Florida statute is clear.  All letters, numbers and other printing on a license plate in Florida must be clear of obstruction. Since all means all, the stop was considered legal.


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