Wednesday, March 05, 2008

People v. Duncan (Cal. Ct. App. - March 5, 2008)

Let me speak to you know as your lawyer. Or friend. Or merely someone who has half a brain.

If you have methamphetamine, marijuana, small baggies, and an electronic scale in your vehicle, as well as a suspended license, do not drive around San Diego -- or anyplace else in California, for that matter -- with your license plate upside down. Perhaps it looks "cool". I don't know; I'm so unhip, I've lost track of what's hip. But regardless of whether it's "in style" or not, it definitely does constitute something else. Something that we call "probable cause". And once we stop you and impound your vehicle, we're going to bust you. And you'll spend a fair piece of time in the pokey. A result that Justice McIntyre won't have a problem in the slightest affirming. And, to prove it, he'll only take eight double-spaced pages to do it.

So that's my counsel. Mind you, on the academic side, I think there's actually a pretty good argument the other way. The only statute that an upside-down license plate allegedly violates is Section 5201 of the Vehicle Code, which provides that a license plate "shall be mounted in a position so as to be clearly visible, and shall be maintained in a condition so as to be clearly legible." Justice McIntyre holds that under the plain meaning of "clearly legible," an upside-down plate doesn't qualify, since it's hard to read. But I'm not totally sure. Maybe I'm idiosyncratic, but upside-down plates don't seem all that hard to decipher. And from the context of the statute it seems like they're more talking about dirt and grime and the like. So I can definitely see a reason why you might think it was okay to put the thing upside down. Or at least make a "rule of lenity" or similar claim in an attempt to avoid a conviction.

But, academic commentary aside, the powers that be say that an upside-down license violates the statute. So wear those license plates "straight up, yo." You'll have a better life. Or at least more freedom.