Friday, August 31, 2012

Gotta love that War on (some) drugs...

Today, my lovely bride-to-be got pulled over by a Department of Public Safety trooper. I won't even get into his attitude and actions while he walked to her vehicle, or during the first half of their conversation.

Instead, I'll focus on the ridiculousness of WHY he pulled her over. She's driving an older Jeep XJ, a vehicle that had a damaged front end from the previous owner "pushing" another vehicle out of a ditch. Needless to say, the front bumper had been replaced. The front bumper has no place to mount a license plate, as it was never intended for these vehicles to have a front plate. In order to mount a plate to the front bumper of these vehicles, one is required to either purchase or fabricate a specialized bracket, or screw the plate directly to the bumper.

While Texas has always had a "two plate" law, the law stated that they simply had to be mounted on the front and rear of the vehicles. Obviously, this was intended so that a license plate could be seen from both the front and rear of the vehicle.

Several years ago, even after lower appellate courts had stated that simply displaying a license plate on the front of the vehicle was sufficient, a man in Texas was arrested for possession with intent and sentenced to 60 years in prison as a repeat offender. What does that have to do with license plates?

The pretext for the search that led to the cocaine being discovered was a frisk search, after being pulled over for not properly displaying a front license plate. It would, of course, be a valid stop...except that state law did not specify WHERE a license plate had to be, only that a vehicle must display one on the front of the vehicle and one on the rear that were visible. The defendant was driving a flashy metallic-blue Chevy Impala with racing stripes and "large wheels". Where the front license plate would typically be located, there was a chrome frame and chrome "blank plate". His state-issued license plate was displayed in the front window.

He was carrying a substantial amount of cocaine on his person, and was a repeat offender. He was sentenced to 60 years. On appeal at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest level of criminal court in Texas, directly below the Supreme Court of the United States), the sentence was upheld. The court jumped through all manner of linguistic hoops and did lots of fancy manoeuvring in its opinion that the "spirit of the law" meant that the "front" of a vehicle meant the front-most portion of the other words, a mount on the bumper.

Interestingly, the only differentiation between "front" and "rear" at the time of the statute in question during that case was simply directional. There was no specific mount specified for either front or rear license plates, only that one had to be mounted on the front and one had to be mounted on the rear.

Federal regulations require (and have, for quite some time) that a bumper of any car sold in the USA extend beyond all other surfaces of the vehicle for a specific distance in both the front and the rear...which is one of the reasons why my antique 320i has a bumper sticking out so far that one might sit down and eat lunch off it. Most vehicles, with the exclusion of pickup trucks and Sport Utility Vehicles which are based on pickup truck chassies, have a rear license plate that is not on the rear bumper but rather mounted forward of the rear bumper.

Ironically, the Ford Crown Victoria driven by the state trooper who pulled my fiancée over this afternoon also had a rear license plate not mounted on the rear-most portion of his vehicle. Somehow, our Court of Criminal Appeals managed to ascertain that "front" meant "front-most portion of the vehicle", while "rear" meant "just somewhere you could see it from behind"...but hey, we gotta do what we can to keep them darkies from slangin' dope, right?

Now for the real kicker. After the decision of the TX Court of Criminal Appeals, the "elected representatives of the people" in that brain-trust we refer to as our state congress decided that the license plate law needed to be amended so that everyone mounted a front license plate on their vehicles. It's for the children. Or public safety. Or fighting illiteracy. Or whatever. These sub-geniuses forgot, however, to do one very important thing. They didn't attach a criminal penalty to it, which renders the law totally unenforceable!

Even though more than 80% of this nation's prisoners are in jail for crimes that have no legitimate nameable victim (in other words, they didn't rob, rape, kill, steal from, or otherwise harm another living soul), and the majority of police work involves nothing but generating revenue for our local, county, state, and federal governments, they can't even write a ticket that carries a fine with this one! The legislature didn't determine and proscribe a fine, which means that being pulled over for not having a front plate is completely pointless!

Unless, of course, the officer did it only as a pretext for going on a fishing expedition in hopes of finding something else in the vehicle. While you're letting that sink in, remember that my woman is not only a full-time student at a four-year university, but is also gainfully employed at a community college...and those car seats in the back seat of her SUV were there because she has two elementary-school-aged children. Ironically, she was on her way to pick them up when she was pulled over.

No comments:

Post a Comment