Displaying License Plates – CVC-5200

License Plates and Why You Should Display Them


Regarding Displaying License Plates - CVC-5200, in People v. Torralva (1971) 17 Cal.App.3d 686 the Court held that an officer was justified in detaining an individual where at 4:30 a.m. the officer observed a station wagon parked outside restaurant that had no license plate and the temporary paper license plate attached to the back window was only partially visible.  The officer was permitted to require a person who departed the restaurant and who claimed to be the vehicle’s owner to produce his driver's license and car registration and detention for such purposes was not unlawful, since there was prima facie violation of § 5201 and 5200.   When officers saw an automobile being driven on a public highway without front license plate, they had reasonable cause to stop the automobile. People v. Lee (1968) 260 Cal.App.2d 836.  Law enforcement officers had a duty to stop a vehicle that did not display front license plate and where the rear license plate was only partially attached. People v. Odegard (1962) 203 Cal.App.2d 427.

The absence of license plates provides reasonable suspicion that the driver is violating the law, and unless there are other circumstances that dispel that suspicion and that resolve any ambiguities in the legal status of the vehicle's conformance with applicable laws, the officer may stop the vehicle and investigate without violating the driver's Fourth Amendment rights. The uninvestigated chance that a temporary operating permit might be displayed somewhere on the vehicle is not such a dispelling circumstance. People v. Dotson (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1045.

An officer's investigatory stop of a car with no license plates and no temporary operating permit in the rear window was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.  The officer had reasonable suspicion that the car was being driven in violation of vehicular license requirements, even if a temporary permit was displayed in the front window.  The officer saw neither license plates nor a temporary permit before he made the stop, and inspection of the rest of the windows would have required the potentially dangerous maneuver of driving alongside and ahead of the car. In re Raymond C. (2008) 45 Cal.4th 303.  Police officers had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify a traffic stop when they observed a vehicle without license plates.  Even though officers failed to observe temporary registration posted on the windshield prior to conducting the stop, the officers were not required to negate every possible explanation for lack of license plates, temporary registration was posted on windshield rather than rear window, as required under California law, even though there was nothing to suggest that registration would have been obscured if posted on rear window. U.S. v. Moore (Cal. 9th 2009) 357 Fed.Appx. 14, 2009 WL 4882605, Unreported, certiorari denied 130 S.Ct. 3346, 560 U.S. 934, 176 L.Ed.2d 1238.


(a) License plates shall at all times be securely fastened to the vehicle for which they are issued so as to prevent the plates from swinging, shall be mounted in a position so as to be clearly visible, and so that the characters are upright and display from left to right, and shall be maintained in a condition so as to be clearly legible. The rear license plate shall be mounted not less than 12 inches nor more than 60 inches from the ground, and the front license plate shall be mounted not more than 60 inches from the ground, except as follows:

(1) The rear license plate on a tow truck or repossessor's tow vehicle may be mounted on the left-hand side of the mast assembly at the rear of the cab of the vehicle, not less than 12 inches nor more than 90 inches from the ground.

(2) The rear license plate on a tank vehicle hauling hazardous waste, as defined in Section 25117 of the Health and Safety Code, or asphalt material may be mounted not less than 12 inches nor more than 90 inches from the ground.

(3) The rear license plate on a truck tractor may be mounted at the rear of the cab of the vehicle, but not less than 12 inches nor more than 90 inches from the ground.

(4) The rear license plate of a vehicle designed by the manufacturer for the collection and transportation of garbage, rubbish, or refuse that is used regularly for the collection and transportation of that material by a person or governmental entity employed to collect, transport, and dispose of garbage, rubbish, or refuse may be mounted not less than 12 inches nor more than 90 inches from the ground.

(5) The rear license plate on a two-axle livestock trailer may be mounted 12 inches or more, but not more than 90 inches, from the ground.

(6)(A) The rear license plate on a dump bed motortruck equipped with a trailing, load bearing swing axle shall be mounted more than 12 inches, but not more than 107 inches, from the ground.

(B) As used in this section, a trailing, load bearing swing axle is an axle which can be moved from a raised position to a position behind the vehicle that allows for the transfer of a portion of the weight of the vehicle and load to the trailing axle.

(b) A covering shall not be used on license plates except as follows:

(1) The installation of a cover over a lawfully parked vehicle to protect it from the weather and the elements does not constitute a violation of this subdivision. A peace officer or other regularly salaried employee of a public agency designated to enforce laws, including local ordinances, relating to the parking of vehicles may temporarily remove so much of the cover as is necessary to inspect any license plate, tab, or indicia of registration on a vehicle.

(2) The installation of a license plate security cover is not a violation of this subdivision if the device does not obstruct or impair the recognition of the license plate information, including, but not limited to, the issuing state, license plate number, and registration tabs, and the cover is limited to the area directly over the top of the registration tabs. No portion of a license plate security cover shall rest over the license plate number.

(c) A casing, shield, frame, border, product, or other device that obstructs or impairs the reading or recognition of a license plate by an electronic device operated by state or local law enforcement, an electronic device operated in connection with a toll road, high-occupancy toll lane, toll bridge, or other toll facility, or a remote emission sensing device, as specified in Sections 44081 and 44081.6 of the Health and Safety Code, shall not be installed on, or affixed to, a vehicle.

(d)(1) It is the intent of the Legislature that an accommodation be made to persons with disabilities and to those persons who regularly transport persons with disabilities, to allow the removal and relocation of wheelchair lifts and wheelchair carriers without the necessity of removing and reattaching the vehicle's rear license plate. Therefore, it is not a violation of this section if the reading or recognition of a rear license plate is obstructed or impaired by a wheelchair lift or wheelchair carrier and all of the following requirements are met:

(A) The owner of the vehicle has been issued a special identification license plate pursuant to Section 5007, or the person using the wheelchair that is carried on the vehicle has been issued a distinguishing placard under Section 22511.55.

(B)(i) The operator of the vehicle displays a decal, designed and issued by the department, that contains the license plate number assigned to the vehicle transporting the wheelchair.

(ii) The decal is displayed on the rear window of the vehicle, in a location determined by the department, in consultation with the Department of the California Highway Patrol, so as to be clearly visible to law enforcement.

(2) Notwithstanding any other law, if a decal is displayed pursuant to this subdivision, the requirements of this code that require the illumination of the license plate and the license plate number do not apply.

(3) The department shall adopt regulations governing the procedures for accepting and approving applications for decals, and issuing decals, authorized by this subdivision.

(4) This subdivision does not apply to a front license plate.

Blog Entry: Displaying License Plates - CVC-5200 (Peter F. Iocona, Attorney at Law)