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Driver has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his vehicle registration or driver’s license information

State v. Daniel R. Folkman, 2013AP1363-CR, District 3, 12/17/13; court of appeals decision (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

A deputy on patrol checked the license plate of an oncoming car. The check showed the car belonged to Folkman. The deputy then checked Folkman’s license status, which was expired, so the deputy stopped the car, ultimately resulting in Folkman’s arrest for OWI. (¶2). The court of appeals rejects Folkman’s claim the deputy needed some valid reason to initiate the registration and license checks.

Folkman has the burden to show he has reasonable expectation of privacy in registration and license information, State v. Rewolinski, 159 Wis. 2d 1, 12-16, 464 N.W.2d 401 (1990). Instead of directly undertaking to satisfy that burden he cites three cases—Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979); State v. Lord, 2006 WI 122, 297 Wis. 2d 592, 723 N.W.2d 425; and State v. Newer, 2007 WI App 236, 306 Wis. 2d 193, 742 N.W.2d 923—for the proposition that police need “exigent circumstances” before they can check license and registration information. The court distinguishes all three.

Prouse and Lord involved stops for the purpose of checking or verifying registration, when the officer had no reasonable basis for believing there was a problem with the registration. “There is a considerable difference between an officer stopping, or seizing, a vehicle to check the registration and license information and an officer running registration and license queries in a law enforcement database.” (¶12). Thus, neither Prouse nor Lord establish a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his registration and driver’s license information. Newer doesn’t apply because the issue in that case was whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle if the officer knows the vehicle’s owner has a revoked license, but does not know who is actually driving; thus, the case did not address whether individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in registration and license information contained a law enforcement database. (¶15).

The court also rejects Folkman’s claim that the state’s collection of registration and license information is like the NSA’s collection of personal email and telephone communications, which are supposed to be examined only if the government has a valid reason. “That individuals have an expectation of privacy in personal emails and telephone conversations that were collected through ‘hacking’ does not mean individuals have the same expectation of privacy in vehicle registration and licensing information, which, as the circuit court observed, is information that individuals are required to submit to the state.” (¶17).

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