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Random License Plate Checks in Georgia

Posted by Sean A. Black | Apr 19, 2017 | 0 Comments

A driver of the vehicle committed no moving violations and did nothing suspicious. An officer behind the vehicle decides to call in his license plate number or run a computerized check from the patrol vehicle. That check reveals that the license plate on the vehicle does not match the vehicle.

Of course, driving a vehicle with the wrong tag on it is a violation of Georgia law. It authorizes a stop of the vehicle and the issuance of a citation of the driver and an impounding of the vehicle. O.C.G.A. ยงยง 40-2-5, 40-2-8.

Is there a constitutional violation which would protect the driver regarding the stop? Does the officer have to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause before running that check?

The officer does not need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to have dispatch check the license or to run a computerized check.

A driver does not have any expectation of privacy regarding the characters of his license plate. The license plate is in plain view. Checking the license plate does not restrict or interfere with the driver's operation of the vehicle; it does not constitute a seizure of the person or the vehicle.

In short, there does not appear to be a Fourth Amendment implication to an officer randomly checking license plates.

About the Author

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.

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