Could Your License Plate Cover Lead to a Fine in Florida?

Traffic laws are meant to protect everyone on Florida roadways. There are the obvious laws—such as not drinking and driving—that are in place to prevent hazardous conditions for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. However, there’s one law many drivers may be breaking without even realizing it.

Driving down the road, you can count dozens of cars with license plate holders showing off their unique style, sporting a favorite team, or displaying a message. However, brackets that obscure any part of the license plate are illegal and could cause an officer to pull you over. If you’re facing charges for this minor offense, reach out to a skilled Floridatraffic violation attorney.

What the Law Says about License Plate Holders

License plate covers fall under two different Florida statutes: 316.605 and 320.061. In part, the first statute says that all license plates must be securely on a vehicle to prevent the plate from swinging. It also states that all letters, numerals, printing, writing, the registration decal, and the alphanumeric designation must be legible. Everything written on the license plate must also be free of any defacement, mutilation, grease, or any other obstructing material so that it can be visible within 100 feet of the car.

The second statute goes further into license plate regulations. It states that a person cannot alter their license plate by mutilation, alteration, change of color, or in any other way. Drivers are also prohibited from attaching a substance, reflective matter, illuminated device, or additional coating onto or around the plate that could interfere with reading the plate number.

Third District Court of Appeal Ruling

In 2018, Marcelo Pena was driving in the Miami area when police stopped him after an officer saw he had a metal plate covering the top and bottom of his license plate. Officers ordered the vehicle to be searched because of an “odor of marijuana,” yet officers could not find any. Throughout the traffic stop, police officers discovered Pena was driving on a suspended license and found a bag of alprazolam pills, which Pena did not have a prescription for.

Pena’s attorney filed a motion to suppress this evidence, citing that the traffic stop was illegal. However, his attorney argued based on the fact that officers did not have sufficient cause to search the vehicle because of the marijuana odor, not that Pena partially covered his license plate. A court granted the motion under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine since their cause was marijuana odor. “Fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine” means that if evidence was obtained illegally, that evidence cannot be used in court.

The case made its way to the Third District Court of Appeal, where court officials reversed the trial court’s finding. They cited a 2014 version of the statutes that motorists cannot obscure the word “Florida” on their license plate and ruled that the traffic stop and search were legal.

What Do License Plate Cover Laws Mean for Me?

If you have a license plate cover on your vehicle, we recommend that you remove it. Fines can be upward of $100. While that may not sound like a big deal to you, minor traffic violations such as this one can lead to law enforcement finding more significant violations, such as a suspended license or drugs. It’s best to err on the side of caution and ditch the plate cover.

Reach Out to a Trusted Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you’ve received a traffic ticket for a cover over your license plate, reach out to the skilled traffic defense attorneys at The Umansky Law Firm. Unlike speeding, texting and driving, and driving under the influence, most people are unaware that you legally cannot cover the word “Florida” on a license plate. You can be confident that our attorneys will do everything they can to drop or reduce traffic charges against you.

To schedule an appointment, call (407) 228-3838 or complete a contact form.