10/19/2012Kentucky Appeals Court Upholds Random License Plate Scans
Kentucky Court of Appeals decides for the first time that random license plate scanning is legal.
Judges in Kentucky have no problem with police randomly scanning the license plates of motorists who are not suspected of any crime. The state Court of Appeals last week upheld the conviction of Timothy Gentry who was stopped on October 3, 2009 because a Lexington police officer conducted what he said was a random license plate scan.
Officer Jason Newman testified he spotted a red Dodge Charger parked on Breckinridge Street in September 2009. For no reason, he decided to run the license plate number. He identified the owner as Dominick Evans, a black man with a suspended driver's license. He saw nobody near the car, so he took no action. Weeks later, Officer Newman saw Gentry, a black twenty-three-year old man, driving a red Charger. It had the same license plate. Though Gentry was driving properly, Officer Newman conducted a traffic stop.
After asking for Gentry's proof of insurance, registration and driver's license, Officer Newman quickly realized the man he thought would be behind the wheel turned out to be someone else. Gentry, however, admitted he also had a suspended driver's license. Because of this, Officer Newman issued a ticket instead of taking him into custody. A month later, however, prosecutors upgraded the charge to a felony third-offense of driving on a license suspended for drunk driving. At trial, Gentry argued there was no valid reason for the stop and that he had been racially profiled. Kentucky's constitution bans arbitrary state action.
"Absolute and arbitrary power over the lives, liberty and property of freemen exists nowhere in a republic, not even in the largest majority," Article I, Section 2 of the Kentucky constitution states.
The three-judge appellate panel found no cases in the state dealing with the expectation of privacy of drivers and their license plates. The court reviewed findings in other states before siding with the practice of random plate searches for vehicles parked on a public street.
"We do not think the citizens of this commonwealth are prepared to recognize as reasonable a person's subjective expectation of privacy in his or her license plate," Chief Judge Glenn E. Acree wrote for the court. "Therefore, we hold that there is no expectation of privacy in the license plate affixed to the exterior of one's motor vehicle that merits constitutional protection and, as a result, when a police officer checks or 'runs' a motor vehicle's license plate, randomly or otherwise, there is no search as contemplated by Fourth Amendment jurisprudence."
The court also dismissed Gentry's complaint that Officer Newman acted arbitrarily because the Lexington Police Department had no official policy guidelines to limit random information checks.
"Gentry claims Officer Newman chose to run the Charger's plates because the vehicle appeared 'glammed' out with tinted windows, oversized tires, chrome rims, and sport styling," Judge Acree wrote. "As the circuit court noted, and we readily repeat, the record is void of any evidence to support Gentry's position that the officer was improperly motivated."
A copy of the opinion is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.