Color of law: Court rules illegal gun can't be used as evidence against man stopped for tinted license-plate cover

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.

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    Comments

    We should probably

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    return the illegal firearm to Mr. Bernard, it the right thing to do.

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    Ok Lets just get the Stand

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    Ok Lets just get the Stand Your Ground Law put in and level the playing field and stop all this techo legal bullshit circumvention.

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    I am kinda more concerned

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    I am kinda more concerned about my personal safety, you can yee haw all you want about yours though.............

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    Bullcrap

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    That is exactly what is wrong with the MA justice system and why we need stop and frisk. This illegal search loophole was used to keep countless violent thugs out of jail, it's next to impossible to get gun charges to stick unless the cop saw the thug shooting someone, caught him with the gun in hand and had a bunch of witnesses to back him up. "Your honor, my client was running because he saw a 10 dollar bill fly past him in the wind, and he was holding his crotch because his balls were itching. Those alleged gunshots could be firecrackers, and that guy on the sidewalk with 5 bullet holes in him could have gotten shot 10 blocks away. That evil racist cop had no reason to chase and search my client, please drop the charges."

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    Have you heard of the Constitution?

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    It's kinda cool: Guarantees you all sorts of rights, like the right not to be arbitrarily stopped and search by a cop just because he feels like it.

    Yes, it means that sometimes people who should be locked up don't get locked up. But don't stop in mid-rant about some bloodbath shootout that doesn't remotely apply in this case just on my account.

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    Don't tread on me

    because no gun is illegal according to the Constitution that our forefathers wrote..well unless you were a slave..or an Indian

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    Now explain to us

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    how "but a tinted license plate is not illegal" is newly discovered evidence that could not have been brought up at the original trial. But I guess since the appeal favors the defense, it's admissible no matter how flimsy it may be (and please don't insult us by countering with the tired old "incompentent attorney" argument). Never mind the fact the guy was driving on a PUBLIC road with an ILLEGAL handgun.

    Additionally, the argument can easily be made that any covering on a license plate obscures the numbers, even if the plate was observed during daytime. That's because license plates, at least in Massachusetts, are retro-reflective. No matter how clear the covering is, it will prevent proper visiblity of the plate at night. Bu this is Massachusetts, where prosecution arguments for appeal are routinely denied.

    Read the decision

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    It was brought up before the case went to a jury (or maybe even before it went to trial, I'm not sure), and the judge threw out the evidence and then the DA appealed the order to suppress the evidence.

    Oh hey nice to meet you mr

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    Oh hey nice to meet you mr Bernard. Did u get ur illegal firearm back for the inconvenience ?

    Sometimes?

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    I guarantee we'll be hearing about this guy again sooner rather than later, except that time he'll murder someone with that illegal gun of his. It's easy to let gun-toting thugs walk and feel good about yourself knowing those thugs will never show up in your wealthy white suburb.

    Relative degrees of threat?

    Even though where I live is neither wealthy, nor white, nor a suburb, I'm a lot more concerned about keeping the police within the law than I am about one more or one fewer "illegal" gun out there.

    Do we have any reason to believe this guy is a thug, as opposed to simply an otherwise law-abiding person with an illegal gun? I have not read the case.

    Oxymoron

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    (n) - law-abiding person with an illegal gun.

    Maybe, mabye not.

    I had to sort through and dispose of a huge pile of a deceased relatives possessions, during which I found myself in possession of a couple of handguns for which I did not have a license. I sold them to a properly licensed dealer. Would you seriously claim that my having been briefly in possession of unlicensed guns means that "Law-abiding citizen" doesn't apply to me?

    Oh I am sure he was on his

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    Oh I am sure he was on his way to his white collar job. Or was he hustling the streets instead? Def a hard working law abiding tax paying citizen

    Like Adam said.....

    If the cop said "I attempted to read the letters on the license plate, but couldn't make them out because of the tinted cover" the stop may have been good.

    If the cop could see the letters and numbers under the tinted cover, then it probably wasn't an illegal cover. Obviously cops can't be pulling people over for things that aren't illegal.

    There are plenty of,loopholes out there, I'm not sure this is one of them.

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    Indeed.

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    Yeah, that whole "rule of law" thing really does stick in the craw. It's like, all we're trying to do here is harass minorities and consolidate power among law enforcement, and you guys keep bringing up this "4th Amendment," whatever the hell kind of Lefty propaganda THAT'S supposed to be.

    Clearly what we need is to give cops unlimited power to stop and search anyone they think looks suspicious. And because cops are all totally reasonable people with no history of institutional bias, I'm sure those random stops will include equal numbers of white guys in the financial district and black guys in poor neighborhoods. I mean, sure, there's no documented history of stop & frisk actually having any impact on crime rates, and it will destroy any progress the police have made in earning the trust of their constituents, but I think we should do it anyway, because I once read a book by Sean Hannity where he told me that "racism" is just a word minorities use to avoid having to take personal responsibility.

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    Institutional bias

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    Yes, everyone needs to be stopped and searched because a group of middle-aged Brioni-wearing white bankers in the financial district is just as likely to have an illegal firearm as a group of black teenagers in thug attire (loose pants, oversized dark hoodies covering their faces) loitering on the corner of Blue Hill Ave. As for effectiveness of stop and frisk, have you tried comparing NYC and Boston firearm murder rates? You might be unpleasantly surprised. Not finding guns on people means it's working, and thugs who would normally bring a gun with them and shoot anyone who dared to look at them the wrong way left their guns at home. Knowing you can be searched at any time and there won't be a bleeding-heat Atticus Finch wannabe to save you when you get busted is a pretty powerful deterrent.

    comparing NYC and Boston

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    As for effectiveness of stop and frisk, have you tried comparing NYC and Boston firearm murder rates?

    Gosh, if only there were a way to check this - maybe some sort of world wide network of computers that included the CDC and the New York City and Boston police departments' yearly reports. An "interweb", if you will.

    Correct

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    We have constitution wankers on both sides of the spectrum, clinging to things written hundreds of years ago and no longer applicable to today's society. Both second and fourth amendments were written when the memory of British oppression was still fresh; nowadays one allows nutcases to arm themselves to the teeth, and the other allows criminals to operate with complete impunity. Both need to be revised, as they're doing more harm than good in their current form.

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    And, as a result,

    we have, arguably, the best behaved police in the world. People who come here from elsewhere are amazed to find out that the police, are, on the whole, the good guys and that, in general, they act within the law.

    Really?

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    I'm sure Swedish, Japanese, Canadian, etc police would beg to differ. Also, we have the worst-behaved criminals out of all first-world countries, that's definitely a fact no one can deny.

    Yep. I have never has issues

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    Yep. I have never has issues with law enforcement but I'm not a criminal nor a shady cat. Coincidence ? I respect police and have no respect for criminals or lazies

    You're lucky.

    Bully for you.

    There are plenty of people who are not so lucky. I know people who, while minding their own law-abiding business, have been robbed by police.

    On the whole, I think our police are very good. But I also believe that the percentage of petty criminals, organized crime members, and sociopaths is no higher or lower among police officers than it is among electricians, dentists, or accountants. To pretend otherwise is to deny the reality of human nature.

    The problem with that Dan is that...

    There were probably judges before this who said it was ok to pull people over for the same tinted cover. Some judges interpret laws in different ways, establishing case law along the way.

    An interesting one I think is the old "fuzzy dice" that used to hang from mirrors. For a long time judges basically ruled these were illegal because they could block a drivers view from the road. Thn in the 1990s a judge felt that th officer has to prove that the dice actually block the view, and that pulling someone over with just the dice might not be good enough. Now the officer has to determine on the street whether or not something is or isn't obstructing, and a judge or jury might think otherwise after the fact.

    Great Idea

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    Fire the cop who made a good faith error and told the truth in court. He could have made up any number of phony reasons to stop this guy, like a tail light or stop sign violation, but he didn't. He could have lied and said he couldn't read the plate, but he didn't. The court says he was an honest cop who interpreted the law incorrectly, as judges and attorneys do all the time for which we have an appeals court and supreme judicial court, and you want to fire him.

    It might surprise you, actually no I'm sure it will surprise you, to know that the legal departments of Boston and state police (and probably other departments) scrutinize these decisions every day and make sure their training divisions are aware of them. The cops do get the message, which is why, to use just one example, you don't see anyone being arrested just for the odor of weed in a car anymore.

    Good faith depends.

    "I always pull over people with license plate covers."

    Does he pull them over and cite them for having the plate covered? That would be a good faith mistake, which would be corrected if the tickets keep getting thrown out.

    Or, does he pull them over, even though he knows it's not a ticketable violation. and then go fishing for something else. That would probably not fall under "good faith".

    The basic principle in play...

    is that the rules should be set up so that breaking the law doesn't pay. The exclusionary rule seems to be perfect in this regard... it takes away the incentive for police to make bad stops, illegal searches, etc.

    I got pulled over once

    for having a license plate cover on. It was a gray smoked version and the trooper pulled me over at night by South Station.

    This happened many many years ago. Now that I know it's not illegal, I'm gonna go find it in my pile of crap and slap it back on.