If you have ever been pulled over for a traffic violation, you know the first thing a police officer will ask you to do is provide your “license and registration.” With respect to the latter, it is important to make sure your vehicle’s registration is always kept current. And of course, you should never display an incorrect or altered registration insignia on your vehicle. Indeed, you can be fined up to $200 for such a violation. And in some cases, you can even be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if prosecutors can prove you “knowingly altered” your vehicle’s registration.
A Texas appeals court recently upheld the misdemeanor conviction of a woman convicted of doing just that. The case, Sutton v. Texas, arose from a November 2017 incident. A police officer in Gilmer, Texas, was patrolling U.S. Highway 271. During this patrol, the officer said he observed a vehicle with what he described as an “absolutely fake” registration sticker. The officer said he also observed a number of other traffic violations and decided to initiate a stop.
Upon approaching the stopped vehicle, the officer said he noticed that the registration sticker “was attached only partially to the inside of the windshield.” The numbers on the sticker also appeared to have been “altered with a ballpoint pen.” The officer reached inside the vehicle and retrieved the sticker.
The officer then asked the vehicle’s driver–the defendant in this case–for her driver’s license. The defendant replied that she did not have it with her. The officer then ran a check of the defendant’s name and date of birth and learned that her license had actually been suspended.
Prosecutors in Tyler County later charged the defendant with the Class B misdemeanor offense of displaying a fictitious or altered registration insignia. Specifically, the state alleged the defendant had used a pen to alter the registration’s expiration date. A jury found the defendant guilty, and the trial judge sentenced her to 150 days in jail.
The Texas 12th District Court of Appeals upheld the defendant’s conviction and sentence in an April 22, 2020, decision. Among the issues raised on appeal, the defendant argued the officer’s decision to reach into her car and “retrieve” the altered registration sticker amounted to an “unlawful seizure” that violated her constitutional rights. The appeals court explained that the seizure was lawful given the officer had “probable cause” to suspect the defendant was committing a traffic offense, i.e., she was driving with an altered registration sticker. And as a general rule, police officers are allowed to conduct a warrantless search of a motor vehicle if the officer has probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.“
Speak with a Houston Traffic Violations Defense Lawyer Today
Even in cases where there has been no deliberate attempt to alter a registration sticker, driving with an expired or incorrect registration can still lead an officer to issue you a ticket. If you need legal advice from a qualified criminal defense attorney in handling this or any similar traffic violations, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today. Call (281) 280-0100.