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Do License Plate Readers Violate Your Rights?

As reported recently in the Sun-Sentinel, several cities in South Florida such as Coral Springs, Hollywood, and even Miami are finding license plate readers useful in catching wanted suspects. The devices are nothing more than advanced cameras that are able to take high-resolution pictures of passing license plates, “read” the number of the plate, and then compare that license plate number against a database of plate numbers for which law enforcement agencies are looking. The readers can be mounted to a stationary pole or attached to squad cars. Proponents of the readers (mostly law enforcement) praise the technology and claim it has helped solve a number of crimes like burglaries. But citizens may wonder whether these readers are an impermissible invasion of their privacy.

What the Fourth Amendment Does – and Does Not – Protect

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is one of the better-known amendments that pertain to criminal cases. This important amendment in part protects individuals from “unreasonable searches” or seizures. In other words, law enforcement officers generally need to present probable cause to a judge and obtain a search warrant before they can invade the privacy of a person to search for evidence of a crime.

This protection is not without its limits, however. The amendment’s protections only extend to those areas in which the person searched has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” If the area searched is not one that an objective, reasonable person would expect to remain private to the public, then the Fourth Amendment’s protections do not apply. Unfortunately, easily observable things about a car or things in plain view to a passerby – a car’s color, make, model, direction of travel and/or (yes) its license plate – are not things subject to protection under the Fourth Amendment.

Do I Have Any Recourse if I’m Charged With a Crime Based on a Camera Reader?

It would be a mistake to accept responsibility for a crime you did not commit merely because there was a “match” between your license plate and a license plate in the database the reader examined. A skilled and persistent Florida criminal defense attorney may be able to examine the reader’s database and/or programming to look for factors or errors that could have resulted in a “false match.” Incidentally, this same tactic – looking for factors and/or errors in a particular process that might contribute to a “false match” – is useful when challenging an eyewitness identification or any other situation where one person or thing says that you or an item of property belonging to you “match” a person or thing suspected in a crime.

If you are facing criminal charges in South Florida, contact attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner and the law firm of Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. for resourceful and zealous advocacy. Jeffrey S. Weiner carefully examines the alleged evidence the prosecution brings against his clients and can successfully expose weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, thereby increasing the chances of his clients obtaining an acquittal or other favorable outcome. Contact his office today by calling (305) 670-9919 or contact his firm online.

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