8/16/2011Texas Appeals Court Upholds License Scanners for Traffic Stops
Texas Court of Appeals sides with traffic stop based solely on the return from an automated insurance database.
Police in Texas have the right to stop motorists if a license plate recognition camera system suspects the vehicle's owner lacks automobile insurance. In an unpublished ruling last Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Texas Court of Appeals refused the attempt by Kenneth Ray Short to have a March 2010 traffic stop declared illegal.
Officer Daniel McGrew's patrol car had been equipped with an automated license plate recognition system (ALPR, also known as ANPR in the UK) that photographed and recorded the identity of every passing vehicle. When Short drove past, an instantaneous computerized database search returned a result that Short's insurance coverage was "unconfirmed for 45 days or more and expired." Sometimes, when the system returns just that the plate is "unconfirmed" it means the Department of Insurance database is unable to say whether or not the vehicle is insured, and it is the police department's policy not to stop such vehicles. In this case, the system claimed Short's car had not been insured since December 6, 2009, so McGrew conducted a traffic stop.
Short appealed, citing an appellate decision last year that found a traffic stop could not be based on a report that insurance information for a vehicle was unavailable. The three-judge panel disagreed with Short because the information returned was far more complete and Officer McGrew testified that he believed the system was "very accurate."
"It is our opinion that the trial court could reasonably conclude that a reasonably objective officer could form a reasonable suspicion based on the evidence provided from the database inquiry in this case, and from that information, the officer could have formed a reasonable belief that the car Short was driving was not covered by an insurance policy," Justice Hollis Horton wrote. "Because the trial court, on the facts before it, could reasonably choose to believe Officer McGrew's testimony and decide to deny Short's motion to suppress evidence, we overrule Short's sole issue on appeal."
Short was convicted of possessing less than three ounces of marijuana. The Texas Department of Insurance set up the TexasSure Vehicle Insurance Verification database in June 2008. Companies like InsureNet had hired lobbyists hoping to convince the legislature to use a version of the database to issue automated uninsured motorist tickets, generating millions in revenue.
A copy of the unpublished decision is available in a 115k PDF file at the source link below.