With as many traffic stops as Florida law enforcement officers make, you would not think that they need to find pretexts to make them. We are consistently told by local law enforcement departments that their officers do not have any type of quota system for Florida traffic tickets or arrests. If there are not quotas, then officers should be free to only stop vehicles when they see the driver doing something that is clearly illegal. However, officers continuously find new reasons to pull people over on the thinnest of pretexts. There is actually a minor legal controversy in Florida right now over one of those pretexts: newly painted vehicles.
As you probably know, when you register your vehicle in the state of Florida, one of the many items on the registration is what color your vehicle is. Many people decide after registering their vehicles that they would prefer to have a different color for whatever reason. They go to one of the many auto paint shops in the state and have their vehicles repainted. Now, imagine that a police officer sees a car on the street and decides to call in the car’s license plate for information. One of the items of information that the officer will get back is what color the registration says the vehicle is. An officer who is determined to pull someone over for something, anything, might decide to pull the car over because its actual color does not match the color listed on the registration: it’s been repainted.
Is it legal for officers to do that? That depends on whether a newly painted vehicle is somehow suspicious enough that an officer is justified in pulling it over to check for criminal activity. And, that depends on where you live in Florida. In the First District Court of Appeals in Northern Florida, an officer cannot pull you over merely for having a vehicle that does not match the color of the registration. The Court there recently decided that because there is no legal requirement to report that you painted your vehicle a new color and there isn’t even a form to do so, repainting your vehicle is not suspicious. However, in the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which includes parts of South Florida, it is considered a good enough reason to pull a vehicle over. Yes, that is one more excuse that officers can use in South Florida as if they didn’t already issue enough Palm Beach traffic tickets and Broward speeding tickets. Other courts in the state have not ruled on the issue and eventually the state Supreme Court might weigh in to clear up the discrepancy.
Of course, Florida traffic ticket attorneys know that this is not the only pretext that officers use to pull vehicles over. Again, it begs the question, if there are no quota systems in place, why do officers pull people over on these incredibly thin pretexts? That is the question that we do not have a good answer for. At least there is no official answer. This author believes he knows why. First, there are “unofficial” quotas. That is the cop that writes the most tickets and gets the most arrests gets promoted faster. It’s just a fact of life that we can choose to ignore, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Second, cops want to make arrests. They get overtime and promoted faster. Thus, if a cop believes that most black or Latino young men have drugs on them or guns, they find a reason to stop them and search their cars. Again, unfair, illegal but still happens every day. Remember to call a Florida traffic ticket attorney if you get pulled over and are issued a ticket. Do not be the one punished because the police do not want to admit that they are under pressure to meet a ticket quota. Let us fight them in court, it is the only way to fight a cop.