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Attaching Wrong Plates to Conceal Identity
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 23 makes it a crime to intentionally attach the wrong license plates. Three elements must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone of this crime:
- That you attached the license plate in question to a motor vehicle or that you permitted someone else to attach that plate;
- That the license plate you attached was not assigned to the motor vehicle to which you had it attached;
- That you committed this act with the intent to conceal the identity of that motor vehicle.
Penalty: $100 fine and/or up to 10 days in jail
A prosecution for the crime almost always takes place in the district court. The crime is usually charged in connection with other motor vehicle offenses that involve some type of car theft. This crime is also quite difficult for the prosecution to prove in isolation. Take this common occurrence for example. The police see someone driving in a manner that constitutes a civil motor vehicle infraction. They pull him over. They ask for a license and registration and run the plates. It turns out that the license plates do not correspond to the plates registered to the vehicle. The officers then ask the driver if he is aware of this. Common answer: No. So how does the district attorney then prove elements 1 and 3 above beyond a reasonable doubt? They don’t. Unless a witness seeing the plate being attached comes forward or the suspect admits to committing the crime the case is not easily provable.
So exactly how are these cases proven? Usually the car on which the plates were illegally attached was either stolen or not properly registered. If it was stolen then one can assume that the wrongly attached plates were placed on the car as a distraction and to avoid detection. If the driver is unable to show that he was lawfully in possession of the vehicle then the prosecution will press the inference that he put the plates on. Other times the car is not registered so the defendant will take plates from one of his other vehicles or from a friend’s car and “temporarily” put it on the car. In this situation it is easy to show that the defendant committed the act intentionally.
How are these cases typically resolved? If you don’t have a record or much of a record a good lawyer will often be able to get the case dismissed. The best way to do this is to get the car on which the plates were placed properly registered and provide this information to the prosecutor or judge. That should motivate the authorities to agree to dismissing the case. If that isn’t done then a dismissal with court costs might be the best solution. This crime standing alone is more of a nuisance than a crime and if nothing more serious accompanies the charge you should get out of this without a criminal record. Prosecutors and judges do not want to waste valuable court time trying one of these cases so getting a good result is more common than not.