By on March 15, 2011

Police in Massachusetts may no longer stop a car merely because a laser jammer or aftermarket backup camera partially obscures the motto on a license plate. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals decided on March 2 that the state police had no business pulling over Patrick H. Miller simply because the phrase “Spirit of America” at the bottom of his plate was partially covered as he drove on Route 93 South in Stoneham on April 30, 2009.

At around 9pm, Trooper Dana Shea decided Miller’s GMC van was worth investigating. Miller had not been driving erratically and committed no traffic violation, according to Shea. Instead, the trooper believed the aftermarket backup camera device he had installed violated a state Bureau of Motor Vehicles regulation.

“Nothing contained in 540 CMR 2.00 shall be construed to prohibit the use of any metal or other frame covering, the border of any such reflectorized number plate so long as such frame does not cover or obscure in any manner the register number or any other words, symbols or numbers lawfully imprinted on or affixed to such number plate,” the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, Chapter 540 Section 2.23(3) states.

The appellate judges found that this expansive regulation does more than just implement the law, which states that the license number and registration stickers be clearly visible.

“The regulation, however, goes further and prohibits a frame on the license plate from covering any words or symbols, even those other than the registration number,” Associate Justice Elspeth B. Cypher wrote for the court. “Regardless of the merits of particular regulations, an administrative agency has no authority to promulgate rules or regulations that conflict with the statutes or exceed the authority conferred by the statutes by which the agency was created. It would appear, therefore, that the regulation is indeed invalid because it exceeds the scope of the enabling statute.”

The justices stopped short of throwing out the regulation because the precise wording of the regulation was limited to license plate frames, not backup cameras or other devices that might block the bottom of a plate. They found no need to strike down the rule because the case could be resolved without doing so.

“The trooper believed that these facts gave him a reasonable basis to believe that the defendant was violating a regulation when, as matter of law, he was not,” Cypher wrote. “The trooper did not have any basis to stop the defendant; therefore the stop was improper and the evidence obtained as a result of that stop must be suppressed.”

As a result, the drunk driving charges against Miller will likely be dropped.

Source: Massachusetts v. Miller (Court of Appeals, State of Massachusetts, 3/2/2011)


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9 Comments on “Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Use of Laser Jammers...”

  • avatar

    Or not. The laser jammer part of the headline appears to be almost entirely a fabrication of the author, no doubt designed to drum up reads. At least this court ruling would say that if it blocks an unimportant part of your plate, that in and of itself isn’t illegal. I doubt it has any bearing on the legality of actually USING a jammer.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. The decision is more focused on that if the Trooper didn’t know the correct law but presumed they were breaking one, that all discovery after that is nullified. The plate aspect could be anything.
      News Flash! License Plate Monkeys are legal, IF they don’t block anything with text on the plate, or it they don’t fit the description of a plate frame.

  • avatar

    Seems to me that there are way too many police in Mass, if this is the kind of thing they have time to do.

    • 0 avatar

      Well of course, they have to save you from yourself. BTW, that judge has the biggest head I think I have ever seen.

    • 0 avatar
      johnny ro

      As a rule, they spend much of their waking time on “details”. This is while off duty, getting paid insane amounts to sit in car sipping coffee and blabbing endlessly on cell phone while “guarding” any sort of street construction or repair by utility etc. Sometimes they stand outside and wave people around or don’t wave them, just rock back and forth and talk to the backhoe guys with back to traffic.
      Mass requires all such construction/repair events to pay for an off duty cop to be there at all times. Sometimes in double or triplicate.
      I think people in Mass go along with it due to
      -apathy/ignorance/its paid for within the utility bills so its invisible
      -supposedly keeps the cops from demanding bribes while on the job.

  • avatar

    A mild setback for the Peoples Republic of Mass.

    The ‘law’ still stands so inspection stations will still hassle you, and LEO will still be able to add on an ‘obstructed plate’ charge to other violations they accuse you of.
    It’s too bad however Miller was allow to skate on the DUI-the system seems only to protect the guilty sometimes.

    • 0 avatar

      Better we let 100 guilty men go free than put 1 innocent man in jail.  Still, this would have been his 3rd DUI (according to the full text) so, it’s seems fairly likely they’ll be able to nab him for doing it again in short order.

  • avatar

    So it was a camera and not a jammer. Besides, makes no sense (most places) to mount a jammer head on the rear. Most police forces attack from the front and then wave you over…I have heard of some traps when they laser you from the rear but they are few and far between, the motorist would spot the cop before getting lasered and just slow down. Hard for them to hide as they need a pretty clear and straight line of sight. I have a jammer and, thankfully, they are legal where I live (Alberta). In Ontario, even if its off and disabled, the OPP can confiscate your car. Illegal to even have a radar detector in your trunk. Only way you are allowed to have a speed detection device in Ontario is if your are the FedEx man and you have a waybill for delivery outside the province. Hence, I stay the heck out of ontario.

  • avatar

    “Nothing contained in 540 CMR 2.00 shall be construed to prohibit the use of any metal or other frame covering, the border of any such reflectorized number plate so long as such frame does not cover or obscure in any manner the register number or any other words, symbols or numbers lawfully imprinted on or affixed to such number plate.”

    I think the comma in that sentence does not belong there.  I had to re-read the sentence several times before I ignored the comma and understood the meaning.

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