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Why are Wrightsville Beach police allowed to run license plates of cars without violations?

Brian Freskos
StarNews

While plate owners’ names are protected from the general public, the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act carves out an exemption for law enforcement, allowing police access to driver information, said Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

Wrightsville Beach Police

Wrightsville Beach Chief of Police John Carey said the law allows any officer in any part of the state to run a vehicle’s license plate and access criminal histories, vehicle registrations, plate statuses and much more information.

“That plate belongs to the state,” Carey said.

Running license plates is nothing unique to the Wrightsville Beach Police Department. But Wrightsville Beach has drawn attention recently over ongoing attempts to install a license plate recognition system on the drawbridge, the only vehicular access point tp the island.

But Carey said New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington intend on installing license plate recognition system in all major access areas so police are notified when a wanted criminal enters the area. That effort has drawn criticism from people arguing such a system would constitute a violation of privacy, but law enforcement contends police have legal access to such driver information.

Carey said Wrightsville Beach has entered into a ports and waterway security joint grant application with the county and city to secure funding for the town’s license plate recognition system.

Related links:

Are the owners of license plates public information?

Whatever happened to the obstructed license plate law?

I saw a car with a flat license plate, without the raised letters punched into it. Was it valid?

Why are some North Carolina license plates blue and some red?

Can a police officer randomly stop people on the sidewalk and require them to produce identification?

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3 Responses to “ Why are Wrightsville Beach police allowed to run license plates of cars without violations?”

  1. On January 20, 2017 at 6:34 pm Dave wrote:

    This is not at all accurate. Regardless of what the police cheifs, sheriffs, or DMV say, the right to remain secure in your personal and private effects trumps any argument the state would like to present. If you go back on the books there was an incident in north carolina some years ago in which an officer pulled someone based in their license plate status. The officer asked to search the car and found a large volume of cocain. A mistrial was declared due to lack of probable cause. Because the officer had no probable cause to pull the vehicle over or to run the license plate and gain access to that private information in the first place. So even though the individual was in fact guilty of possesion and trafficking of cocain with intent to distribute, his case was dismissed because the officer had no right to stop the vehicle or to run his plate and find out there was an issue. Probable cause determins the legality of acquiring private information. Meaning, even though the state of north carolina owns the plate, they do not own the information which is why highway patrolmen have also been discharged for running the plates of others simply to acquire the information. You MUST have probable cause to request the information. Otherwise, you are violating a citizen’s right to privacy, the fourth amendment, a staple of a free society. They serve us, they are not the Gestapo. Dont spread their propaganda that they can do it because they can.. That’s a lie. Thanks!

  2. On February 25, 2017 at 12:19 pm HDC wrote:

    They can absolutely run your plates. Plates are not considered private.

    No Plate Privacy
    Many courts have addressed the issue of whether police officers need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to run computerized checks on license plates under a variety of circumstances. The question is not whether officers can stop a vehicle once the computer check reveals a criminal and/or traffic violation. The question is whether officers need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to run the computer check in the first place.

    Despite the underlying circumstances, the courts don t hesitate in asserting that a motorist has no expectation of privacy in the license plate number of his vehicle. So, when police officers randomly run the registration of vehicles for no reason other than to check the information, there is no Fourth Amendment violation.

    For example, in United States v. Walraven, an Albany County, Wyo., deputy sheriff observed two men driving a 1983 brown Cadillac bearing a Tennessee license plate. The deputy routinely ran the license plates on out-of-state vehicles. After asking his dispatcher to do a computerized check on the Cadillac s vehicle registration, the deputy was informed that the plate number belonged to a 1988 Toyota. The deputy decided to stop the Cadillac on that information alone.

    After stopping the vehicle and engaging the occupants in a conversation relating to the purpose of the traffic stop, the deputy located a bag containing 2 kilos of cocaine. The deputy arrested both occupants.

    The owner of the vehicle (who was the passenger at the time of the traffic stop) appealed the district court s denial of his motion to suppress the evidence of the cocaine, alleging the deputy obtained the contraband in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, the owner challenged the constitutionality of the deputy s registration check of his vehicle.

    The appellate court s analysis of the deputy s method in establishing reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle was succinct. In short, it held that because license plates are in plain view, no privacy interest exists in the license plates. Another federal appellate court stated, Like the area outside the curtilage of a dwelling, a car s license plate number is constantly open to the plain view of passersby [and] unless a registration check reveals information which raises a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the subject remains unaware of the check and unencumbered.

  3. On February 25, 2017 at 12:20 pm HDC wrote:

    No Plate Privacy
    Many courts have addressed the issue of whether police officers need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to run computerized checks on license plates under a variety of circumstances. The question is not whether officers can stop a vehicle once the computer check reveals a criminal and/or traffic violation. The question is whether officers need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to run the computer check in the first place.

    Despite the underlying circumstances, the courts don t hesitate in asserting that a motorist has no expectation of privacy in the license plate number of his vehicle. So, when police officers randomly run the registration of vehicles for no reason other than to check the information, there is no Fourth Amendment violation.

    For example, in United States v. Walraven, an Albany County, Wyo., deputy sheriff observed two men driving a 1983 brown Cadillac bearing a Tennessee license plate. The deputy routinely ran the license plates on out-of-state vehicles. After asking his dispatcher to do a computerized check on the Cadillac s vehicle registration, the deputy was informed that the plate number belonged to a 1988 Toyota. The deputy decided to stop the Cadillac on that information alone.

    After stopping the vehicle and engaging the occupants in a conversation relating to the purpose of the traffic stop, the deputy located a bag containing 2 kilos of cocaine. The deputy arrested both occupants.

    The owner of the vehicle (who was the passenger at the time of the traffic stop) appealed the district court s denial of his motion to suppress the evidence of the cocaine, alleging the deputy obtained the contraband in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, the owner challenged the constitutionality of the deputy s registration check of his vehicle.

    The appellate court s analysis of the deputy s method in establishing reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle was succinct. In short, it held that because license plates are in plain view, no privacy interest exists in the license plates. Another federal appellate court stated, Like the area outside the curtilage of a dwelling, a car s license plate number is constantly open to the plain view of passersby [and] unless a registration check reveals information which raises a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the subject remains unaware of the check and unencumbered.



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