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Rodriguez v State – A12A2397 – License Plate Recognition Scanner – Rise of the Drones

In Rodriguez v. State – A12A2397 – April 12, 2013, a divided Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the Gwinnett County stop and conviction of the Defendant and pondered how far with Courts let the technology go in the face of the 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Rodriguez was stopped by a License Plate Recognition System or “LPR” that determined that there was a warrant for a person who was stopped driving the car for a traffic ticket one time in the past which was owned and was presently being operated by Rodriguez.  The person with the warrant Sanchez, a male, was not in the car nor was there a male in the car but only a female.  The connection of a person with a warrant who once drove the car was found to be enough to justify a traffic stop even in the absence of a traffic violation or invalid license plate. Reasonable suspicion of past criminal conduct is sufficient to justify a traffic stop.

During this stop, a consent to search was obtained for the Driver’s purse when an odor of marijuana was detected to justify a search of the car.  Under Terry v. Ohio for Officer safety, Police are justified in running the identities of those they pull over against computer databases to check for outstanding warrants even though the checks are unrelated to the purpose of the stop.

The dissenters held that the initial traffic stop was illegal under the 4th Amendment.  Under Delaware v. Prouse, a traffic stop is unreasonable to check license status and registration unless there is evidence that the driver is unlicensed, the vehicle is unregistered, or the driver or other occupant is subject to seizure for violation of the law.  Articulable suspicion required for a stop must be an objectively identifiable sign that the person stopped has violated the law or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. One-time use of a vehicle by a criminal is not enough to justify a stop absent any other factors especially without any information on the relationship of the owner of the vehicle to the criminal.  In another LPR case in which the stop was upheld at least the age and gender of the wanted person matched the driver of the vehicle. See Hernandez-Lopez, A12A1715, Feb. 5, 2013.