Burnt Out License Plate Light and DWI

Recently I had a case where the reason the officer stopped my client was a non functioning license plate light. The only problem was that the light in fact was working, and there was a witness to that fact besides my client.

I got excited. I had gotten arrests thrown out for similar reasons in the past. I thought this one would be easy. Naturally, I dug into the case law looking for the case that would say I win. To my surprise, what I found was the opposite. This past January the Minnesota Court of Appeals said, if I was reading it right, that if the officer THOUGHT that the light was out, the stop was valid even if the light was actually working. What kind of deal was that?

It seems the police can stop you for a perceived equipment violation, even if they are mistaken about whatever it is. Once they have you stopped, if they find you have been drinking, you get a DWI ticket; and it makes no difference if you can show later that your equipment was fine. The bottom line is that there is no sure way to not get caught if you are drinking and driving. Being careful isn’t good enough. There’s no way you can possibly control all the factors that might lead to a stop and an arrest. The only answer is to just not do it.

I have suspected for some time that there are officers who stop drivers because they just have a feeling that something is not right. Then later they make up something to legally justify the stop. On one hand I suppose you could say that these are good officers and a value to the community. But I really think that they should be required to stay truthful and not just be making up stories.

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