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Colorado Court Rejects Temporary Tags In Back Window
Temporary license plates may not be placed in the rear window under a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling.

Temporary tag
Drivers who buy a new or used car from a dealer often put temporary paper registration tags in the rear window, as fragile paper tags can be easily lost, damaged or stolen. In a New Year's Eve ruling, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that there is only one legitimate spot for a temporary tag in the Centennial State -- it must go where the permanent license plate belongs.

The question had never come to the appellate level in Colorado before. Motorist Andrew James Hayes brought up the issue after he was was stopped by a police officer who did not see the temporary plate in the rear window until he got out of his squad car. The ensuing traffic stop resulted in drug possession charges for Hayes, who argued the police officer just used the temporary plate issue as a pretext.

The court's only consideration in this instance was the propriety of stopping Hayes simply because his valid temporary vehicle plate was placed in the rear window of his car. Hayes cited Colorado v. Redinger, a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling that held once the officer sees a temporary plate, the traffic stop cannot continue. The appellate court agreed that the circumstances seemed to fit the case.

"The trial court also found, contrary to some of the officer's testimony, that after the stop was made, the officer could and did see a temporary plate that contained the statutorily required content," Judge Michael H. Berger noted for the court.

Rather than side with Hayes, the three-judge appellate panel introduced a new factor into the analysis, namely whether the location Hayes chose for the temporary plate was appropriate.

"Indeed, after Redinger was decided, the General Assembly amended the temporary plate statute, addressing the required location of temporary plates," Judge Berger wrote.

Colorado law specifically requires that the permanent plate be located no less than a foot from the ground "at the approximate center of the vehicle" and within 18 inches of the rear bumper. Judge Neeti V. Pawar was less convinced about the clarity of the statue than her colleagues.

"The plain language of the statutes directs the DMV how to make temporary registration number plates," Judge Pawar wrote in a concurring opinion. "And it directs vehicle owners and drivers how to display rear license plates. But the statutes do not make clear whether temporary registration number plates are a type of rear license plate, nor do the statutes separately instruct vehicle owners or drivers how to display temporary registration number plates."

Judge Pawar still agreed in upholding the conviction. A copy of the opinion is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Colorado v. Hayes (Court of Appeals, State of Colorado, 12/31/2020)

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