Verdict: I’m not guilty

So I was acquitted this morning.

Back in November, I got pulled over and cited for “failure to maintain and fasten vehicle registration plate in visible position,” a violation of Transportation Article 13-411. No, I wasn’t driving without a license plate. Rather, my plate had a thick clear plastic cover on it, which the officer told me was illegal in Maryland. We’d bought the cover years ago in Pennsylvania after idiots/thieves/take your pick twice (!) tore off half our plate.

Anyway, I looked up the definition of a registration plate cover under Maryland law, and here’s what I found:

(a) In this section, “registration plate cover” means any tinted, colored, painted, marked, clear, or illuminated object that is designed to:

(1) Cover any of the characters of a vehicle’s registration plate; or

(2) Distort a recorded image of any of the characters of a vehicle’s registration plate recorded by a traffic control signal monitoring article…

This morning, I headed to district court to fight the ticket. It was only a $60 fine, and going to court was an inconvenience, but I was convinced that the ticket was a mistake.

I waited my turn as dozens of other alleged traffic offenders came before the judge, mostly to plead guilty or guilty with an explanation. (Note to the dude who was clocked going 109: I’m thinking there’s no really good explanation for that one.) When my turn came, I pleaded not guilty and then waited until the end of the docket for my trial.

The officer told the judge that my car had a dark, tinted plate cover on it and that he had stopped me and written a citation. I countered that the cover was clear. I told the judge that the intent of the statute seemed to be to prohibit covers that would prevent someone from reading the plate, but that the officer had clearly had no problem reading mine, and those that would interfere with something like a red light camera. Mine doesn’t, as evidenced by the EZ-Pass violation notice I brought to show the judge. If EZ-Pass could read the plate well enough to send us a notice, surely a red light camera could, too. I explained why we had bought the cover; it wasn’t to obscure our plate, but to thwart thieves. We’d bought it in Pennsylvania, not here in Maryland, where the sale of such items is banned. Finally, I mentioned that in the years since we’ve lived in Maryland, no one who’s serviced our car has ever brought up the license plate cover law.

Well, I was either really annoying or really convincing, because the judge agreed with me. My first (and only, I hope) encounter with the traffic court system ended in a not guilty verdict.

I have nothing but praise for the judge, and not just because she did what I requested. As I sat there this morning, I heard my fellow defendants make every kind of excuse for their driving infractions. The judge must hear such things day after day, and it has to get old, yet she treated everyone who came before her with respect, even when condemning their driving behavior. I might not be so patient.

Oh, and the offending license plate cover? I unscrewed the thing and took it off the day after my ticket. I may have been in the right, but who needs the hassle? If anyone tears my plate in half again, though, all bets are off.

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