In a recent New York court opinion, the court analyzed whether a police officer can enter a license plate into a government database to check for any suspensions, outstanding violations, and the registration of the vehicle without first developing any suspicion that the vehicle was engaged in criminal activity. More specifically, the court ruled that this review of the license plate information does not constitute a search. Given the fact that many modern police cars are equipped with license plate readers and fixed license plate readers are becoming more commonplace, the issue is of paramount importance.
The facts of the case that gave rise to this opinion are as follows. In 2014, a police officer saw a vehicle drive past him. The vehicle was operated by the defendant. During the eventual trial on the matter, the officer stated that he did not see the vehicle engaging in any traffic violations or otherwise erratic behaviors. The police officer entered the vehicle’s license plate into his computer system, which was linked to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The analysis indicated that the registration for the vehicle was suspended due to outstanding parking tickets. The officer then initiated a stop of the vehicle. During that stop, the officer conducted a database search of the defendant’s driver’s license and discovered that his license was also suspended. Ultimately, the officer initiated an arrest of the defendant for driving while intoxicated as well as for operating a vehicle with a suspended license and registration.