Orlando Weekly – In a case that started with a dangling tag light, the Florida Supreme Court made clear Thursday that police officers have broad authority to pull over motorists whose license plates are not fully visible.
Justices, in a 5-2 decision, rejected an appeal from Jermaine D. English, who was stopped by Orlando police because a tag light and wires were hanging down over the license plate on a vehicle he was driving. Evidence found during the stop led to English being charged with possession of cocaine, marijuana and paraphernalia.
In seeking to suppress the evidence, an attorney for English contended that police did not have cause to stop the vehicle. But the Supreme Court upheld a 2014 decision by the 5th District Court of Appeal, which found that state law requires numbers and letters on license plates to be “plainly visible at all times.”
According to this decision by the Florida Supreme Court, law enforcement agents can now legally perform a traffic stop on a vehicle if the license plate is obscured in any way at all no matter how minor or insignificant.
The facts of underlying case involved a traffic stop performed by law enforcement agents due to the vehicle’s tag being ALLEGEDLY obscured by the dangling wires of the tag light. Law enforcement agents (in this case the Orlando Police Department) used the ALLEGEDLY obscured tag as a the basis to perform a “legal” traffic stop. As usually occurs in this situation, the traffic stop is really just a ploy to perform a warrantless search of the vehicle as well as to conduct an interrogation of the driver and passenger(s).
This is an unfortunate ruling because law enforcement agents already use such traffic stops of a similarly dubious nature as the precedent for an exception to your 4th Amendment Right to be free from warrantless searches. This adds yet another way that the State and their Agents can legally violate your constitutional rights.
In order to ASSERT your rights as a citizen of the United States and of Florida, you must KNOW your rights. One of those rights is the right to remain SILENT. When these State Agents pulled this vehicle over the driver was NOT required to answer any of their questions.
Typically those questions would be, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
That question is an attempt by the officer to get a driver to admit to wrongdoing. In order to protect and assert your rights, the answer should be, “I am not going to answer any questions officer.”
Another typical question will be, “So where are you going today?“ This question can have the effect of making the driver nervous, as well as giving the officer additional information to use against the driver. Again, the answer you can give to protect and assert your rights to be free from interrogation by Agents of the State is, “I’m not going to answer any questions.”
If you are the victim of a warrantless search based upon an allegedly “legal” traffic stop, contact your Florida Litigation Team for a Free Initial Consultation.
Our goal is to insure the constitutional rights of our clients are not violated. And if they are, to zealously advocate for the suppression of evidence seized in an illegal search.
Contact us today!