Well, in the State of New York, I was having car troubles and pulled over to work on it. A cop stopped and walked up to me – and called me by my name. It’s clear he was able to get the registration information from my license plate.
So, on a technical basis, it’s quite possible. On a legal basis, I’d assume the cops would be allowed to do it.
If Maryland is anything like here they sure as shootin’ can, and they do it regularly. I see defendants all the time who get pulled over after a suspicionless random check of their tags comes back showing they have a warrant out. A friend in college was in the drive-through line at Jack in the Box, and had a cop waiting behind him run his tags just out of boredom. He had warrants and went to jail. Don’t remember if he let him finish his food first.
I saw a little clip on the news recently… they have a new automated camera system, whereby a police cruiser can just drive up and down a parking lot (for instance), and the camera will automatically scan all the license plates and run them through the computer.
I do it everyday. However, I live in Ohio, but I’m sure Maryland isn’t too different. You’d be amazed how many suspended/expired drivers there are. There are also many warrants, stolen autos, stolen plates, etc.
What exactly do you mean by “dead”? Police still need to have Probable Cause in order to pull you over. If you are going the speed limit, are valid etc, then you could not be legally pulled over
If the officer has run a check and determined there’s a warrant for the registered owner, and believes there may be a problem w/ probable cause in making the traffic stop, I’m guessing they would just follow the subject until they commited some minor violation, thus providing the probable cause. A sharp defense atty. might be able to see through this, but how many cases are going to get that far?
But is that legal? My sister worked for three years as a commissioned Ranger for the US National Park Service. She told me than running a plate constitutes conducting an investigation, and that you need probable cause for that. I have the feeling that I’m missing something here, but I can’t figure out what it is.
If the registered owner has warrants and the person behind the wheel appears to match the physical description of the owner (which is listed in the registration when it pops up on our computer), then that is your probable cause for the traffic stop. Now, if you find out after you make the traffic stop that the driver is actually the owner’s brother (who happens to match the description), you must immediately cut him loose. The courts have ruled that in such situation this doesn’t violate the person’s fourth amendment rights so long as it was done in good faith. This concept is drilled into our heads at every legal update class we attend.
Yes, it is legal. But remember I work in Ohio and the National Park system may have their own in-house rules.
We use a computer network called LEADS to run plates and such. The LEADS administrators are very strict about how their system is used. So long as what we are doing is for law enforcement purposes, then we can run a plate for no other reason than it is in front of us.
Now, if I started using LEADS to find out where the pretty girl in the blue Honda lived, I could lose my job. Not because it was illegal, but because it violated their rules. The way it was explained to me is that if a person violates LEADS rules, then LEADS will demand that person be terminated, or else the entire law enforcement agency for whom that employee works can have the LEADS terminals removed. Essentially removing any capability to run plates.
In Mentor, Ohio about 4-5 weeks ago this happened (sorry, no link). A twenty year employee in the (I believe) records department lost her job because she looked up a plate of a woman who was dating her ex-husband and she caused some trouble. In all, two people were fired and a third suspended for violating LEADS rules. (I have no personal knowledge of this specific incident, this is what I read in the newspaper.)
The information listed in the vehicle registration is public information. Any Joe on the street can find out who owns what car, albeit much more slowly than the police. All you have to do is fill out a specific BMV form and mail it in, and in a few days they will send you the owner’s information.
As an avid scanner listener in the Baltimore / Washington Metro region you get real used to hearing calls for “Rollin’ Stolen” where an officer calls out a tag for a quick check. Years ago when I listened to RATT (Regional Auto Theft Taskforce) in Baltimore officers sang out tags every few seconds, hour after hour, looking for stolen cars. Hideously efficient.
Nowadays most cars just run the tags on their onboard terminals.
Interesting and for me timely question, because precisely that appeared to happen to me yesterday. I had pulled through a left turn arrow which I had thought had just turned yellow. A guy in the straight ahead lane opposite me did a false start as I went through, which I chalked up to an impatient driver rarin’ to go. I pulled into the parking lot 100 yards down the road where I work, and as I was walking in a cop pulled on by in his cruiser.
Weird thing is he went around a corner and stopped dead with a perfect view of my license plate (I’m inside my workplace now looking out), and at that point I thought he was going to ring me up for running the light. I fully expected to see a ticket on my windshield when I came back out, but nothing. I really hope he doesn’t have the legal right to mail me a ticket for something like that; otherwise he just thought I was a punk kid, ran my plates, saw my squeaky-clean record, and decided the hell with it. I hope.
My advice to my students is to never, ever, ever do this. If they have probable cause that will stand up in court, then they can search you and the car anyway. If they don’t, fuck’em. The default position of any citizen should be to make the police prove everything, every step of the way. Don’t co-operate one iota more than the law demands.