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Traffic Stop – “Dealer Imitation” Plate

State v. Jan P. Hogan, 2012AP966-CR, District 4, 10/25/12

court of appeals decision (1-judge, ineligible for publication); case activity

Reasonable suspicion supported stop of car displaying “dealer imitation” plate (i.e., failing to display permanent or temporary plate in violation of § 341.04(1)). State v. Griffin, 183 Wis. 2d 327, 333, 515 N.W.2d 535 (Ct. App. 1994) (OK to stop car with “license applied for” placard to see if registration in order) deemed controlling, the court rejecting attempt to limit that case to instances where the item displayed is connected to car thefts:

¶10      Hogan’s argument is unconvincing because the reasonable suspicion conclusion in Griffin did not hinge on the existence of stolen vehicle testimony.  When this court explained why the stop was supported by reasonable suspicion, the discussion focused solely on the absence of license plates.  See id. at 333-34.  Both this court and the supreme court have read Griffin’s holding as being limited in this fashion.  See State v. Williams, 2001 WI 21, ¶95, 241 Wis. 2d 631, 623 N.W.2d 106 (characterizing the “leading case,”Griffin, as holding “that the absence of license plates, and reasonable inferences that can be drawn from that fact, provide reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify an investigatory stop of a motor vehicle”); State v. Williams, 2010 WI App 39, ¶18, 323 Wis. 2d 460, 781 N.W.2d 495 (citing Griffin as “holding that a dealer-printed ‘license applied for’ placard in the back window of a vehicle provided ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the vehicle’s operator was violating [a traffic law]”).

Hogan points out (Br.-in-Ch., p. 9) “that every other state presented with facts similar to this case has held that the fact of temporary or dealer plates alone does not rise to the level of reasonable articulable suspicion required for a constitutionally permissible traffic stop,” and impressively documents the assertion, id., pp. 9-16. Nonetheless, once the court determines that Griffin is controlling, it is bound by that case, “regardless how persuasive such [foreign] cases might be,” ¶12. That said, keep in mind that State v. Lord, 2006 WI 122, ¶7, 297 Wis. 2d 592, 723 N.W.2d 425 flatly forbids a “stop [of] any vehicle to verify the registration solely because the vehicle is displaying temporary license plates as set forth in the statutes and administrative rules of the state.” Apparently, the tag here – described as a “dealer imitation marketing plate” – fell short. (“It is uncontested that Hogan’s vehicle did not display either a permanent or temporary license plate at the time of his stop,” ¶7.) The net result is that perfectly lawful behavior (you’ve got two days to apply for a proper plate) subjects you to a stop, if the dealer is too inefficient to provide a temporary plate, but it wouldn’t be the first strange result countenanced by search and seizure principles.

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