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Are license plate covers legal?

We see vehicles with license plate covers on a regular basis. These covers can be purchased at most automotive stores. An example of a typical license plate cover is depicted below.

License plate covers are available with or without tint. Some will argue that the mere ability to purchase the cover at the automotive store makes it legal to use. However, this is not necessarily true.

California Vehicle Code section 5201(f)(2) states (emphasis added):

(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.

Prosecutors will argue license plate covers that “rest over the license plate number” are per se illegal pursuant to the last sentence of Vehicle Code section 5201(f)(2). Note Vehicle Code section 5201(f)(2) makes no distinction between license plate covers with or without tint.

However, in People v. White (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 1022, the court interpreted Vehicle Code section 5201 to impose two obligations – “that the plate be clearly visible when mounted on the vehicle and that it also be clearly legible.” White at 1025. The court in that case found “that the legislature intended in enacting the noted Vehicle Code section that the view of the license plate be entirely unobstructed.” White at 1025.

When in court, it is important for criminal defense attorneys to acknowledge the existence of a code section that is on point. Most attorneys argue their position without citing a single code section or any applicable case law. When the prosecution cites statutes and case law in support of their position, you need an aggressive attorney who is knowledgeable and prepared to articulate a defense well founded in both law and principle.

For a free consultation about the specific facts in your case, give me a call at  714-400-2000.