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No constitutional violations in stopping car with interim dealer plate

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Finding an Indianapolis police officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop of a car with an interim dealer plate, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the driver’s conviction of Class C felony operating a motor vehicle after his driving privileges had been forfeited for life.

In Carl Croom v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1304-CR-144, Carl Croom argued that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution that his interim dealer license plate was unregistered.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Bryan Zotz stopped Croom’s vehicle under the mistaken belief that the license plate was expired. About two months before the stop, the state linked newly issued interim dealer plates to the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. It placed the new interim dealer plates in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles system and allowed road officers to have access to the information. The plate on Croom’s car was an old plate, and it did not show up as on file with the BMV when the officer ran it while sitting behind Croom’s vehicle at a traffic light. That’s when Zotz initiated the traffic stop, leading to the discovery that Croom was driving without a valid license.

But the plate was valid; dealers had a stockpile of the old version and were allowed to issue the old plates to buyers.
 
The Indiana Court of Appeals found the stop by Zotz did not violate the U.S. or Indiana constitutions.
 
“The only way for Officer Zotz to determine whether Croom was compliant with the law was to initiate a traffic stop. Because Officer Zotz believed that an interim dealer license plate would only be valid if it was in the newly searchable system, the lack of registration information established reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. The Supreme Court’s decision in Sanders (v. State, 989 N.E.2d 332, 336 (Ind. 2013)) compels us to find that Officer Zotz’s good-faith reasonable belief that a violation occurred was sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.

“Balancing the high degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that a violation occurred and the needs of law enforcement against the low degree of intrusion, we conclude that Officer Zotz had reasonable suspicion under Article 1, Section 11. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s decision to admit the evidence obtained from the traffic stop,” the court held.
 

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