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Name: People v. Dotson
Case #: C060310
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 11/30/2009

Unless other circumstances exist to dispel the suspicion, absence of license plates on a vehicle provides reasonable suspicion that the driver is violating the law, so as to support a vehicle stop. The Vehicle Code provides that when two license plates are issued for use upon a vehicle, they must be displayed on the vehicle, one in front and one in back. A vehicle may be operated legally despite missing plates if a valid temporary operating permit is correctly displayed on it. The code does not explicitly provide for placement of the temporary permit. Here, the officer testified that the vehicle driven by appellant approached him in a parking lot early in the morning. The lot was dark save for parking lot lights. Seeing no front plates and no rear plates when the vehicle passed him, the officer stopped the vehicle. There was no evidence presented that the officer observed a valid operating permit on the vehicle prior to the stop. Distinguishing People v. Hernandez (2008) 45 Cal.4th 354, where the officer saw the temporary permit but stopped the vehicle on a hunch that the permit was counterfeit, the court here agreed with the trial court that the stop was justified because the officer’s testimony indicated that he had a valid, reasonable suspicion that appellant was violating vehicle registration laws. Rejecting the People’s concession, the court ruled that appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated simply because the officer did not search the exterior of the vehicle for a temporary operating permit before stopping the vehicle. In such a situation as the one presented here, the officer has no duty to look for the permit that is not immediately apparent to him.