United States v. Brown, 2023 WL 2231883 (8th Cir. 2023)
An officer patrolling in the early morning hours noticed Joshua Brown’s orange motorcycle because it was the only vehicle on the road (and possibly because it was orange). Brown was not violating any laws and the motorcycle was properly registered and displayed a license plate. The officer ran a license check and learned the plate was registered to a blue motorcycle.
The officer followed Brown for a short distance and saw he was about to pull into the driveway of a residence known to be a location where narcotics, stolen property and stolen vehicles were frequently found by officers. The officer activated his lights, Brown stopped and the officer frisked Brown, discovering a firearm, several knives and brass knuckles. Brown was subsequently charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The court held that the color discrepancy, coupled with the officer’s experience and knowledge that some vehicles with mismatched colors came back as stolen, gave the officer reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop.
Brown asked the court to suppress the evidence, claiming the discrepancy between the actual color of the motorcycle and the color shown on the registration did not provide reasonable suspicion for the stop. The officer testified, sharing several criminal explanations of why a license plate may not correspond with the vehicle to which it is affixed: An owner may replace an expired license plate with an unexpired plate from another vehicle, an owner may be suspended from registering a vehicle and use a plate from another vehicle, or the vehicle may have been stolen and the driver put a different license plate on it to avoid detection. The officer also offered several legitimate reasons for a color discrepancy. Additionally, the officer testified he was aware of several past vehicle-related crimes in both the general neighborhood and the immediate vicinity of Brown’s stop, including stops of stolen vehicles bearing license plates that did not belong with the vehicle. Many of these incidents involved vehicles with colors that did not match their registrations.
The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Brown’s motion to suppress. The court held that the color discrepancy, coupled with the officer’s experience and knowledge that some vehicles with mismatched colors came back as stolen, gave the officer reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop.