5/10/2018Florida Court Outlaws License Plate Frames
Florida Court of Appeal finds common, dealer-issued license plate frames are illegal.
Driving in Florida with a license plate frame is illegal under a state Court of Appeal ruling handed down Wednesday. A three-judge panel overturned a Miami-Dade County judge's decision declaring that Officer Carl Sanabria illegally stopped Marcelo Aron Pena on September 9, 2015. Pena's car had a license plate frame advertising the local car dealership that partially obscured "MyFlorida.com" at the top and "Sunshine State" at the bottom.
In her January 2016 ruling, Miami-Dade Judge Diane Ward cited a 1997 case in which the Court of Appeal ruled that it was not a traffic violation to drive with a plate frame that covered the name of a county. Judge Ward reasoned that covering up "Sunshine State" or "MyFlorida.com" should be no different. The three-judge panel disagreed, noting that the Florida legislature had updated the license plate law in 2005 to require the word "Florida" always remain unobstructed -- a decision the legislature explicitly reversed in 2016.
"Because Pena's tag frame obscured the word 'Florida' at the top of the plate, he violated the 2015 version of section 316.605 and Detective Sanabria had probable cause to stop Pena's car," Judge Robert J. Luck wrote for the Court of Appeal.
Wednesday's decision did not comment on whether the 2016 change in the law would affect cases going forward. Instead, the court noted the likelihood that ordinary motorists would be swept up by the precedent.
"We share the fifth district and the trial court's concern that license plate rims and frames are a common practice of long-standing among the citizens of our state... and many otherwise law abiding citizens install them specifically to show allegiance to a club, fraternity, college or sports team or, as a means of other self-expression," Judge Luck wrote. "But the legislature gets to make the laws that govern our public roads and highways."
Pena, 26, faces charges of possession of alprazolam pills, a felony. After stopping Pena, Officer Salabria claimied he smelled marijuana and began searching Pena's vehicle. No marijuana was found. A hearing before Judge Ward is scheduled for May 18.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.