By on August 16, 2011

Police in Texas have the right to stop motorists if a license plate recognition camera system suspects the vehicle’s owner lacks automobile insurance. In an unpublished ruling last Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Texas Court of Appeals refused the attempt by Kenneth Ray Short to have a March 2010 traffic stop declared illegal.


Officer Daniel McGrew’s patrol car had been equipped with an automated license plate recognition system (ALPR, also known as ANPR in the UK) that photographed and recorded the identity of every passing vehicle. When Short drove past, an instantaneous computerized database search returned a result that Short’s insurance coverage was “unconfirmed for 45 days or more and expired.” Sometimes, when the system returns just that the plate is “unconfirmed” it means the Department of Insurance database is unable to say whether or not the vehicle is insured, and it is the police department’s policy not to stop such vehicles. In this case, the system claimed Short’s car had not been insured since December 6, 2009, so McGrew conducted a traffic stop.

Short appealed, citing an appellate decision last year that found a traffic stop could not be based on a report that insurance information for a vehicle was unavailable. The three-judge panel disagreed with Short because the information returned was far more complete and Officer McGrew testified that he believed the system was “very accurate.”

“It is our opinion that the trial court could reasonably conclude that a reasonably objective officer could form a reasonable suspicion based on the evidence provided from the database inquiry in this case, and from that information, the officer could have formed a reasonable belief that the car Short was driving was not covered by an insurance policy,” Justice Hollis Horton wrote. “Because the trial court, on the facts before it, could reasonably choose to believe Officer McGrew’s testimony and decide to deny Short’s motion to suppress evidence, we overrule Short’s sole issue on appeal.”

Short was convicted of possessing less than three ounces of marijuana. The Texas Department of Insurance set up the TexasSure Vehicle Insurance Verification database in June 2008. Companies like InsureNet had hired lobbyists hoping to convince the legislature to use a version of the database to issue automated uninsured motorist tickets, generating millions in revenue.

A copy of the unpublished decision is available in a 115k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Short v. Texas (Court of Appeals, State of Texas, 8/10/2011)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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24 Comments on “Texas Appeals Court Upholds License Scanners for Traffic Stops...”


  • avatar

    I note, after skimming the linked-to opinion, that not only did the system claim that Short’s car had not been insured since December 6, 2009, Short’s car had in fact not been insured since December 6, 2009.

    Your characterization of what “unconfirmed” means to the Texas DoI oversimplifies the opinion.

    IAALBIANYLFIANATPIT

  • avatar
    ott

    “It is our opinion that the trial court could reasonably conclude that a reasonably objective officer could form a reasonable suspicion based on the evidence provided from the database inquiry in this case, and from that information, the officer could have formed a reasonable belief that the car Short was driving was not covered by an insurance policy,” Justice Hollis Horton wrote. “Because the trial court, on the facts before it, could reasonably choose to believe Officer McGrew’s testimony and decide to deny Short’s motion to suppress evidence, we overrule Short’s sole issue on appeal.”

    Sounds very… reasonable.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      This is the internet…you are supposed to be enraged that your right to be a douchebag uninsured motorist is being trampled on.

      I actually think license plate scanners are a great idea; not only will/would they mop up uninsured motorists and expired tags, but they would have a great deterrent effect. As somebody who actually pays their insurance and tag fees I have little sympathy for those that choose not to.

  • avatar
    MidLifeCelica

    So he can afford to buy marijuana on a regular basis (I presume), but can’t be bothered to pay for car insurance. No sympathy. Whenever I read articles about traffic stops that turn up drugs, the same question always pops into my head – why do people insist on carrying drugs in their car? Is it because that’s where they’re using them? Are the drugs making them dumb?

    If I knew I was going out to buy an illegal substance, I’d take the bus, or walk, or ride a bike and then take it back to the relative safety of my home that way. Seems to me there’s nearly no chance of being busted, certainly when compared to driving in a car that you already know has legal issues that may attract the attention of law enforcement. Just sayin…

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Generally, criminals aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. If they were, they wouldn’t need to be criminals, and they certainly wouldn’t get caught. The really dumb part is that if there’s no reasonable cause (e.g., it is left in plain sight, you smell of it) the cop can’t search & thus can’t find anything in your car.

      “Routine traffic stops” are about much more than traffic enforcement. They are one of the simplest ways to find people with outstanding warrants and other criminal issues. It is because people who don’t obey the law tend to also not obey traffic laws; people who commit robery generally aren’t using the money to pay for car insurance.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    It is easier to stop a car with expired insurance than it is to stop a crime. Cops will rather not risk their lives, so expect law abiding citizens to be policed more than the criminals.

    In the future, cops will be stopping the refugees fleeing our burning cities, than put out the fires or ending the riots.

    • 0 avatar

      Mark Steyn: “In Britain, everything is policed except crime.”

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        With rulings like this, I see that coming here too.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        I’m quite OK with insurance scofflaws getting their balls busted.

        On the other-side, we need to make sure that after everybody starts paying their insurance, that our overall rates come-down, rather than just accrue to big bonuses and margin-increases for the insurance companies.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      It is easier to stop a car with expired insurance than it is to stop a crime.

      It is a crime to drive in Texas without automobile insurance.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        +1 – stupid to suggest driving without insurance is OK, what about the financial costs the rest of us have to cover in our insurance because some people do not have it.

    • 0 avatar
      KaneShadow

      Why would the cops be putting out fires during a riot?

      I assure you cops risk their lives on a daily basis. For instance, performing traffic stops on criminals who might have a gun and a reduced instinct for consequences.

      And on another note, the more money the PD can make from robotic enforcement of misdemeanors, the more cops they can afford to pay to risk their lives fighting “real” crimes.

  • avatar

    I got hit by an uninsured ‘driver’ in 2000.

    Who then ‘legged it’ to Mexico.

    Which is out of reach of my insurance company.

    My insurance company did a great job, the car was a write off (brand new BMW Z3) and I had some minor hospital bills. My insurance company covered the whole $50K.

    As I was not at fault – sitting at a red traffic light, minding my own business, the claim did not affect my insurance premium, but I am sure that somewhere a small rise in ‘uninsured motorists’ coverage was added……

    I am all for ANPR systems linked to insurance databases, the more we catch, the less there will be on the road and hopefully my insurance will go down a little….

  • avatar
    redliner

    This is something Europe has had for about 10 years now. In fact, in the UK, they can tie everything from previous convictions to arrest warrants to car registration, so when you drive by a police officer in a car registered to someone with a pending arrest warrant, they will very likely stop you. They also know all your priors. Of course, privacy laws in the UK favor the police.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    License plate theft will increase. Count on it. In the UK, plates are counterfeited regularly. “Red” ken Livingston (Marxist former mayor of London-stan) had his plate number noted and printed on a removable magnetic cover.

    Ken’s plate logged up several thousand dollars a week in congestion charges before they caught on.

    Nature, and criminals, adapt.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Stolen plates are on the patrol car’s computer database, as well. In Texas, you’ll now be dealing with a 2nd degree felony, with the failure to have insurance tacked on as well.

      Jailbirds are smart only in their own minds. They are actually pretty dumb.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        Somehow it seems like investing…

        First guy with a good model gets benefits,
        best to leave before the rest begin to pile-in,
        and the system adapts to catch you!

  • avatar

    Plate theft is a great idea. Another is simply buy some bogus Mexican plates, until the time the giant police database tracks your every movement at least. But by then the insurance will be deducted from an implanted microchip.

  • avatar
    George B

    I don’t mind the police cracking down on uninsured motorists here in Texas. Scanning every plate on every car eliminates the charge of racial profiling. It may be an unfair negative stereotype, but it sure seems like drunk Mexicans without insurance cause a significant number of traffic accidents around here.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    Well, unlike the farcical facial recognition system that Massachusetts is using to revoke peoples’ licenses, plate scanners actually work most of the time, so there’s that.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Now that I’ve read the ruling, I have to yet again question the accuracy of The Newspaper’s work.

    Contrary to what the headline says, the issue in the case was not about electronic scanners. The issue was one of whether a stop was permitted when a database comes back with inconclusive, as opposed to definitive, results.

    In this case, a database check stated that the insurance status of the vehicle was “unconfirmed.” The issue here was one of whether an “unconfirmed” finding from a database was a strong enough result in order to justify a stop, which would then allow further investigation. Apparently, it is.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    I did a “ride-along” with a city police officer a few years back. His right hand almost never left the computer, keying in license numbers almost the whole shift. He caught a few expired plates but didn’t want to disrupt traffic to swing around and stop the offender.

    He did, however, make a mental note of the vehicle and the neighborhood it was coming out of…


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