By Ken Wallentine
People v. Bushey, 2017 WL 1712385 (N.Y. App. 2017)
Andrew Bushey’s bad day began with a collection of unpaid parking tickets. His car registration was suspended due to outstanding parking citations. An officer saw Bushey driving down the road, but did not observe any traffic violation. The officer performed a license plate check on his mobile data terminal.
Learning that the vehicle registration was suspended, the officer stopped Bushey. The officer checked Bushey’s driver license status and learned that it, too, was suspended. As the officer spoke with Bushey, he saw signs of impairment. Ultimately, he arrested Bushey for driving under the influence and driving with a suspended driver license and a suspended registration. If only he’d paid the parking fines.
Bushey challenged the lawfulness of the license plate check. In affirming the lower court, the Court of Appeals added New York to the long list of state and federal courts that have approved stops following checks of vehicle registrations without any suspicion of wrongdoing.
For example, courts have upheld:
• Stops when an officer runs a registration check and learns that the registered owner has a suspended license. See State v. Reno (840 A.2d 786 (N.H. 2003)); State v. Halvorson (997 P.2d 751 (Mt. 2000)).
• Stops when an officer recognizes a driver as having a suspended driver’s license. See United States v. Hope (906 F.2d 254 (7th Cir. 1990)), where the officer knew that the license suspended as of one week prior to the stop; United States v. Sandridge (385 F.3d 1032 (6th Cir. 2004)), where the officer knew that the license was suspended 22 days before the stop.
• Stops based on running a license plate check and learning that an arrest warrant has been issued for the registered owner, when the driver reasonably could be the registered owner. See State v. Penfield (22 P.3d 293 (Wash. 2001)) in which the court ruled the stop must terminate when the driver is found not to be the registered owner; State v. Oshkeshequoam (503 N.W.2d 23 (Wis. App. 1993)).
The officer who stopped Bushey was looking at the license plate to look beyond the license plate. The court agreed that the officer’s tactic was entirely legal because there is no expectation of privacy in a license plate on a car on a public road—or in the information contained on the registration record.
CHIEF KEN WALLENTINE is a Special Agent who directs the Utah Attorney General Training Center, overseeing use of force training and investigation and cold case homicide investigations. He is also a consultant and Senior Legal Advisor for Lexipol. Ken formerly served as Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General, serving over three decades in public safety before a brief retirement. He also serves as the Chairman of the Peace Officer Merit Commission of Greater Salt Lake County.