The Law Office of Matt Green
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The Pollock-Altmayer House
501 Government Street
Suite 1
Mobile, AL 36602
(251)434-8500

Website Content Copyright 2017 Matt Green.

Disclaimer:  Alabama Attorney Advertising. This web site is designed for general information only. No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.  This website is not intended to be and should not be relied upon for legal purposes and/or formal legal advice.  Viewing this website and/or sending us information through this site, or by any other means, does not create an attorney-client relationship; an attorney-client relationship can only be formed upon the issuance of a written representation agreement by The Law Office of Matt Green.  Any communications with us through this website may not be secure and/or private, and may not be considered privileged or confidential.  Any links or referrals to other publicly available websites are provided as a convenience; Matt Green makes no claims, promises, guarantees or representations about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of any third-party information.

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Can the police run my Tag without any evidence I am violating the law?

March 9, 2019

Can the police run your tag without any evidence you are violating the law? Shelby Myers with FOX10 News ran a piece recently where she polled local law enforcement agencies on their use of tag readers. When she asked the Mobile County Sheriff's office if they used tag readers, Can the police run your tag without any evidence you are violating the law? Shelby Myers with FOX10 News ran a piece recently where she polled local law enforcement agencies on their use of tag readers. When she asked the Mobile County Sheriff's office if they used tag readers, the sheriff's office spokesperson replied, "No Comment."  The Baldwin County Sheriff's office uses tag readers on two of its vehicles. The piece goes on to note lots of cameras, both on law enforcement vehicles, and along Alabama public highways. Below is the news story which reveals how common tag reading by law enforcement in the area is.

 

 

 

 

Most often I hear from law abiding citizens the following: "I've done nothing wrong, so I have nothing to fear. Plus it's a valuable law enforcement tool." You  see several citizens in the FOX10 video says as much. There is no doubt that tag readers are invaluable public safety tools.  It would be wise however to think about what the nature of the information tag reveals, who has access to it, how long they keep it, and what the information reveals about a person. As the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in GPS tracking case:

 

"A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts." United States v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544, 562 (D.C. Cir. 2010).

 

Another important thing to ask is how long law enforcement retain this information. If they keep this information (often times referred to as data mining) for a while, that poses significant privacy concerns. Take for instance the following scenarios where innocent people become criminal suspects because of indiscriminate tag reading and data mining .

 

The above scenarios all involve innocent citizens who have done nothing wrong and have nothing to fear, right?

 

Indiscriminate tag reading and data mining could also be used for purposes unrelated to law enforcement or criminal wrongdoing. Again the ACLU provides useful and plausible examples.

 

 

 

So what's the law in Alabama?  Can the police run your tag without suspecting a citizen of committing any crime or traffic offense?  A recent case from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals within the last year provides an interesting answer to the question. The facts as stated in the Court's opinion reveal:

 

In March 2015, Officer Brandon Truss of the Montgomery Police Department was on patrol when he noticed a white Ford Crown Victoria automobile traveling in front of his patrol car. Although the vehicle was not violating any traffic laws, Officer Truss decided to “run the tag” by entering the license-plate characters into a computer database. According to Officer Truss, he routinely ran tags on vehicles as an investigatory tool because, he said, doing so can help uncover expired tags, switched tags, and stolen vehicles.After running the tag on the white Ford Crown Victoria, Officer Truss learned that the tag on the vehicle was actually registered to a stolen vehicle. As a result, Officer Truss pulled the vehicle over. The driver, later identified as Jarod Abrams, was the only occupant in the vehicle. As Officer Truss approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, he noticed the strong odor of marijuana emanating from the rear.

 

  

The officer later arrested the driver for possession of marijuana, receiving stolen property, and obscuring a vehicle identification number. The defendant asked the trial court to suppress the evidence seized because the suspicionless and indiscriminate tag reading of the defendant's vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment. The officer testified at the suppression hearing that he "routinely ran license-plate numbers through his patrol unit’s computer while on patrol because, he said, it was a way to uncover expired tags, switched tags, and stolen vehicles." The trial court agreed by suppressing the evidence and dismissing the indictment. The State appealed arguing that the driver had no privacy interest in the license plate on his vehicle, and therefore the officer could not have violated the Fourth Amendment by running the tag number of a citizen whom had committed no crime or traffic offense. The Alabama Court of Criminal appeals ruled in a matter of first impression agreed  with the State and held:

 

"Abrams did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his plainly visible license plate.Thus, Officer Truss was justified in running Abrams’s license-plate number through his computer system, and no Fourth Amendment violation occurred."

 

The style of the case is State v. Abrams, No. CR-16-1347, 2018 WL 1980671, at *4 (Ala. Crim. App. Apr. 27, 2018)

 

 

 

Matt Green  represents persons in a wide variety of criminal and constitutional matters. He represents personal injury victims as well. Matt served as a municipal court traffic court judge in the City of Mobile and the City of Saraland for nearly a decade. Before that Matt prosecuted major felonies, traffic homicides, and violent crimes in the Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office. He teaches trial advocacy to Mobile Police Cadets and speaks to the Mobile County Court Referral Victim Impact Panel.  Matt also advocates for free speech, economic liberty, and due process. He may be reached at 251.434.8500 or by e-mail at mattgreenlaw@comcast.net

 

RELATED ARTICLES OF INTEREST: 

License to Track: FOX10 News Investigates license plate readers

 

Interactive Map of Automatic License Plate Readers

 

License plate readers: Needed protection or too much surveillance?

 

YOU ARE BEING TRACKED: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Record Americans’ Movements

 

 

The Alabama State Bar, Rules of Professional conduct, Rule 7.2 (e), requires the following language in all attorney communications: No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.

 

The Alabama State Bar, Rules of Professional conduct, Rule 7.2 (e), requires the following language in all attorney communications: No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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