Can Florida police officers pull over drivers after running the vehicle tags? It depends. The Constitution protects us against unreasonable seizures. “As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996). In some cases, a Florida police officer may pull someone over for a tag violation. For example, “Section 316.221(2), Florida Statutes, requires that ‘either a taillamp or separate lamp shall be … placed as to illuminate with a white light the rear registration plate and render it clearly legible from a distance of 50 feet to the rear.’ Failure to have any rear tag light visible at all constitutes a traffic violation.” Davison v. State, 15 So. 3d 34, 35 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009). If a driver violates this Florida traffic law, a police officer may legally stop the vehicle.
What if you are a Jacksonville habitual traffic offender? Can a police officer stop your vehicle after running the tag? It depends on the circumstances. There is a Florida case that explains this. In Fernandez v. State, the First District Court of Appeals ruled that a police officer could stop a vehicle if the registered owner is a habitual traffic offender, but there are limits on the continued detention.
This year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on a First District Court of Appeals’ case about a police officer stopping a vehicle after running the tags. In this case, a deputy ran a license plate number and discovered the color of the vehicle was listed as blue and the car was green. “Based only on the color inconsistency, the deputy pulled the car over to conduct a traffic stop.” State v. Teamer, 39 Fla. L. Weekly S478 (Fla. July 3, 2014). The Court ruled that the stop was invalid because “the sole basis here for the investigatory stop is an observation of one completely noncriminal factor, not several incidents of innocent activity combining under a totality of the circumstances to arouse a reasonable suspicion.” Id.
In this case, the Florida Supreme Court made a detail analysis of investigatory stops:
“The United States Supreme Court has ‘held that the police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity ‘may be afoot,’ even if the officer lacks probable cause.’ United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7, 109 S.Ct. 1581, 104 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968)); Popple v. State, 626 So.2d 185, 186 (Fla.1993) (‘[A] police officer may reasonably detain a citizen temporarily if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.’ (citing § 901.151, Fla. Stat. (1991))). However, a ‘police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant’ an investigatory stop. Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868. The Supreme Court has described reasonable suspicion as ‘a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.’ United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417, 101 S.Ct. 690, 66 L.Ed.2d 621 (1981). This standard requires ‘something more than an ‘inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.’” State v. Teamer, 39 Fla. L. Weekly S478 (Fla. July 3, 2014).
If you are arrested, speak with a Jacksonville criminal lawyer about your case. There are several ways to defend a case depending on the facts and the laws that apply. Call 904-564-2525 to speak with a Jacksonville criminal attorney.