OUI Stop for Tinted License Plate Cover Ruled unlawful by the Massachusetts Appeals Court

What happens when you are pulled over for a traffic infraction and then charged with OUI in Massachusetts. How does this impact the defense of your case?

This can occur when an officer patrolling the road pulls you over for driving above the speed limit or for a burned taillight, and then after pulling you over, suspects that you have been driving while intoxicated.

When it becomes clear to the officer that the driver is intoxicated, the officer may arrest the driver under criminal charges. However, such a driver may be acquitted or the charges dropped if he can prove that the initial stop was not lawful.

In the matter of Commonwealth v. Michael Bernard, the driver was arrested after a state trooper pulled him over for having a tinted cover over the license plate. The trooper testified that he routinely stopped vehicles that had a cover over their license plate in order to enforce a Massachusetts law requiring license plate to be clearly visible.

During a hearing where the trial judge was to decide whether certain evidence of criminal activity was to be admitted to the court, the Commonwealth offered a color photograph of the driver’s license plate with the tinted cover. The photograph was to support the argument that the driver had violated the Massachusetts law. After reviewing the photograph, the trial judge found that the letters and numbers on the license plate were clearly visible through the cover. The state trooper also testified that he was able to see the license plate through the tinted cover.

After considering the Commonwealth’s arguments in light of the evidence, the trial judge granted the driver’s motion to suppress, deciding that the trooper had no reason under the law to stop the driver. The road stop was unlawful, and therefore the subsequent arrest was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals also affirmed this decision.

The lesson to be learned from this case is that a criminal charge or arrest will only be lawful if the initial stop leading to the arrest was lawful. If an officer violates your rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article 14 to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure, all of the evidence that is the result of this deprivation of your rights would be suppressed, leading to the likely dismissal of the case. To learn more about defenses to an OUI charge, feel free to download my Free Book or you can contact my office to have a copy mailed to you.

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