The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that the fact a man had a transparent blue plastic cover over his license plate was not enough of a reason for a state trooper to pull him over on Rte. 495 in 2011.
And because that was the only reason the trooper pulled Michael Bernard over, the illegal gun the trooper found on Bernard during a pat frisk cannot be used against him in a trial for possession of an illegal weapon because the trooper had no reason to think Bernard was doing anything illegal at the time that would warrant pulling him out of his car and frisking him, the court ruled.
At issue was whether state license-plate law bans all coverings of license plates, or only those that make their numbers harder to read.
"Although the cover has a bluish tint, it does not to any degree obscure or reduce the legibility of the license plate," the court concluded, continuingthat the law does not ban all coverings:
The statute does not by its terms prohibit the use of all license plate covers, nor does it mention tinted covers. Instead, consistent with its overall focus on visibility and legibility, the statute prohibits the "installation of any device obscuring [the registration] numbers." "Device" is certainly broad enough to encompass license plate covers. But a cover (tinted or not) does not violate the statute unless it obscures the registration numbers.
The regulation likewise does not impose a universal prohibition against license plate covers. Instead, it prohibits only those covers that reduce the legibility or substantially diminish the reflective quality of the license plate
The court said the trooper did not help prosecutors' case by acknowledging he always pulled over cars that had any kind of covering on their license plates, because that is clearly a legal error.
Had the trooper instead said he pulled over the car because he had trouble making out the plate's letters and numbers, that would have been a different matter, the court said.