Just two days ago, the state’s top criminal court ruled that it is now mandatory for all Texas drivers to display a license plate, not only on the back bumper of the car, but the front bumper of the vehicle as well. This recent ruling stemmed from the conviction of a man who was sent to prison for 60 years due to drug charges. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals claimed that it is not acceptable to have the license plate displayed on the back of the car and somewhere remotely close to the front. The Court claims that the license plate needs to be visible at the front of the car. Also, the Court claims that having the license plate located in between the dashboard and the windshield is an unacceptable means of presentation.
The case stemmed from a man by the name of Tawin Spence, who was pulled over in Lubbock four years ago due to his front license plate being wedged in between the dashboard and the windshield. When searched, authorities found about a half-pound of cocaine in Mr. Spence’s pants. Soon thereafter, Spence appealed the ruling and claimed his license plate was visible from the windshield, that there was no rational reason to be stopped by the police, and that the cocaine found that was used to convict him of possession with intent to deliver was obtained improperly. The ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals has resolved many issues among lower state courts including an appeals court in Austin who ruled that a license plate on the front bumper is not a requirement through the Texas Transportation Code and an Amarillo appeals court who ruled that the front license plate must be displayed at the foremost area of the car.
Judge Cathy Cochran claimed that the front of the car is defined as the foremost part or beginning of the vehicle which means the front of the car as a location is not ambiguous and does not lead to an absurd result. “While the transportation Code does not explicitly define “front” common usage and definitions of the word provide ample support for this construction.” Of the nine votes among the judges, two of the votes disagreed with the majority claiming that the front and the rear of the vehicle could be misconstrued to mean any surface facing that direction. Judge Lawrence Meyers argued that the only thing about the statute that is not clear is that it is not written well.
In Court, Spence testified that his license plate was in fact, clearly visible because it was located in the front of the windshield. The officer claimed that when he pulled Spence over and before even getting the chance to explain his reasoning for the stop, Spence had been given a prior ticket for the same license plate violation. Also, Spence did not have a valid driver’s license on him, which prompted the officer to search the car and discover the drug evidence. Upon this happening, Spence will be eligible for parole in 2013 and a new law has been enacted.
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