2/23/2018Kentucky Supreme Court Endorses License Plate Camera Tracking
Kentucky police can use cameras to track motorists without a warrant under a state Supreme Court ruling handed down last week.
The Kentucky Supreme Court declared last week that police need not bother applying for a warrant before tracking motorists with automated license plate readers (ALPR, also known as ANPR in Europe). The justices took up the issue in the case of Gregory Traft, who was stopped in Boone County on September 11, 2012, because his license plate triggered an alert from the patrol car's automated camera system.
Traft had a warrant out for his arrest for failing to appear in court on the charge that he wrote a bad check. Deputy Sheriff Adam Schepis ordered Traft to pull over. In the course of the stop, Traft appeared to be quite drunk and was placed under arrest.
The high court's only interest in the case was whether the deputy's use of the license plate camera was lawful. The question had never before been considered at the appellate level in Kentucky prior to Traft being stopped. After reviewing the evidence, the justices declared that looking up a motorist's history from his license plate did not violate the Fourth Amendment requirement that police obtain a warrant before conducting a search.
"Here, Traft certainly had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his license plate -- either subjectively or objectively," Justice Samuel T. Wright III wrote for the court. "The plate was displayed on the exterior of Traft's vehicle (as required by law), while Traft drove on a public street. Likewise, Schepis was driving on the same public street when he observed Traft's vehicle and collected the information from his license plate."
Because the search was deemed reasonable, the justices also explained that police could dig deeper into a driver's record beyond just checking to see if the vehicle had been reported stolen. Calling Traft a "fugitive from justice," the court had no interest in his privacy argument.
"The information Schepis accessed regarding Traft through his license plate number was a matter of public record," Justice Wright explained. "It was not 'protected' information, as Traft would have this court believe. Any member of the public could have obtained the information that Traft had a warrant for failing to appear in the Boone District Court. What is more, the information Traft claims to be protected was actually an order directed to police officers -- officers like Schepis -- to detain Traft."
The court was likewise not interested that the officer did not bother verifying whether the individual behind the wheel matched the description of the man with a warrant out for his arrest.
"While it is true that Schepis did not know the identity of the driver when he initiated the stop, we hold that the fact that the owner of the vehicle was subject to seizure for violation of law creates an articulable and reasonable suspicion for an officer to initiate a traffic stop," Wright concluded. "This was not a case of a 'snooping deputy' harassing a law-abiding citizen, as Traft argues."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.