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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court rules that paper / dealers' plates "must be be mounted in the same fashion as the permanent plate"

Late this afternoon the Supreme Court has filed two opinions -- today's are time-stamped 3:28 PM and 4:21 PM. They are:

Kerry L. Meredith v. State of Indiana and Jeffrey Young v. State of Indiana

In Meridith, a 10-page, 4-1 opinion affirming defendant's conviction, Justice Dickson writes:

The defendant, Kerry L. Meredith, appeals his conviction for drug possession, arguing that evidence of drugs found in his vehicle should have been suppressed at trial because (1) police lacked cause to initiate a traffic stop and (2) the subsequent consented-to search of his vehicle violated his rights under Pirtle v. State, 263 Ind. 16, 323 N.E.2d 634 (1975), and Sims v. State, 274 Ind. 495, 413 N.E.2d 556 (1980). The Court of Appeals reversed. Meredith v. State, 878 N.E.2d 453 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), reh'g granted, 886 N.E.2d 79 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). We granted transfer and now affirm the conviction, concluding that police had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant based on the unlawful display of his temporary license plate in his rear window, and that the defendant was not in custody at the time he consented to the police search of the vehicle. * * *

Officer Lackey testified that he stopped the defendant's car solely because he suspected the vehicle was being operated in violation of Indiana's laws regarding the proper display of license plates. The question before us is thus whether the defendant's placement of his temporary plate in the vehicle's back window amounted to a traffic infraction. If it did, Officer Lackey had reasonable suspicion to execute the traffic stop. * * *

As neither the statutes nor regulations differentiate the display and illumination requirements of permanent and interim plates, we hold that under existing unambiguous law a license plate—be it temporary or permanent—must be mounted and illuminated as provided by Indiana Code §§9-18-2-26 and 9-19-6-4. This Court is mindful that the current common practice is for dealerships to issue paper or cardboard plates to customers, and that exposing such a document to the elements appears impractical and inconvenient, but as neither the statutes nor regulations differentiate between the display requirements for a permanent and interim plate, the interim plate must be mounted in the same fashion as the permanent plate. Any other method of display may give rise to reasonable suspicion for law enforcement officers to initiate a traffic stop to ascertain whether the display complies with all statutory requirements. * * *

The defendant was not in custody, and thus no Pirtle/Sims warning was necessary. The trial court did not err in refusing to exclude the evidence on this basis.

Conclusion. We affirm the defendant's conviction.

Shepard, C.J., and Sullivan and Boehm, JJ., concur. Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion:

The Legislature has authorized the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to promulgate rules for the
placement of temporary plates, and the bureau has not done so. But this is not because the
bureau necessarily intends that the rules for permanent license plates should apply. If that were
so, then the bureau would have no reason to require ninety-day plates to be “displayed in the
same manner as a standard license plate.” * * *

A drive down nearly any Indiana street on any given day will reveal Hoosier motorists applying old-fashioned common sense: attaching temporary paper tags to the inside of the back window in order protect them from deterioration by the elements. By today’s decision the majority has transformed law-abiding citizens into traffic offenders. This is patently wrong in my view; therefore I dissent.

In Young, a 4-page, 4-1 opinion, Justice Dickson writes:
Resolution of this appeal is determined by our holding today in Meredith v.State, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind. 2009), that it is legally insufficient to display a paper temporary license plate inside the rear window of a motor vehicle. For this reason, we affirm the conviction of the defendant, Jeffrey Young, for Possession of Cocaine, rejecting his claim of improper admission of evidence resulting from an unlawful traffic stop.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 28, 2009 06:22 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions