Definition of the Charge
Under Section 320.261, Washington DC Statutes, it is a criminal offense for a person to knowingly attach to any motor vehicle (or mobile home) a registration license plate or a validation sticker if the plate or sticker was not issued and assigned or lawfully transferred to such vehicle.
To prove the crime of Attaching Plate or Tag Not Assigned, the prosecution must establish the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The accused attached a registration license plate or validation sticker to a vehicle;
- The registration license plate or validation sticker was not lawfully issued and assigned to that vehicle; and
- The accused knew that the plate or sticker was not lawfully issued and assigned to the vehicle.
Penalties for the Charge
In Washington DC, knowingly attaching an unassigned license plate, tag, or validation sticker to a vehicle is a second degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 60 days in jail or 6 months of probation, and a $500 fine.
These penalties represent the statutory maximum sentence that is available for this type of charge, and not the probable range of sanctions that will be imposed in the majority of cases. For most first-time offenders, the primary risk is that they will be adjudicated guilty of the offense, assessed court costs and fines, and, most importantly, acquire a permanent criminal record.
An adjudication of guilt for Attaching Tag / Plate Not Assigned means that a person is convicted of the offense and will be permanently barred from expunging or sealing their record. Thus, a seemingly minor traffic offense will result in a person having ‘criminal history,’ which can permanently interfere with employment applications, career opportunities, security clearances, college applications, and other matters in their professional and personal life.
Defenses to the Charge
If properly raised at trial, there are numerous defenses available in Washington DC to contest a charge of attaching a tag or plate that is not assigned to a vehicle. For this reason, a defendant should never plead guilty to the offense without first consulting with an attorney.
Factually, it is often difficult for the prosecution to prove either that the defendant himself attached the tag, plate, or sticker at issue, or that the defendant knew the tag, plate, or sticker was not assigned to the vehicle. If the defendant did not make admissions to law enforcement with regard to attachment or knowledge, then there is often a complete lack of evidence. The State would need an independent witness or other competent proof to sustain a conviction.
Even where the defendant admitted to police that he or she attached the plate and knew that it was the incorrect plate or tag, the defendant’s statements are not admissible unless the State is able, independently of the confession, to establish each element of the crime with substantial evidence. This evidentiary principle is known as corpus delicti.
In Attaching Tag / Plate Not Assigned cases, proving knowledge (a required element of the crime) is often difficult in the absence of a confession. Police generally are not present during the attachment of the plate, and there are usually no witnesses or documentation indicating defendant’s knowledge at the time of attachment.
Without independent evidence of knowledge (or even attachment by the defendant), corpus delicti is not satisfied, the confession is inadmissible, and the charge fails for lack of proof. This, of course, assumes that the proper evidentiary objections and legal arguments are made at trial.
Attaching a plate or tag not assigned is also highly defendable for the simple reason that most Washington DC misdemeanor prosecutors lack the diligence and know-how to properly prove the charge. This is because of recent case law concerning the admissibility of evidence that prosecutors almost always seek to introduce in these types of trials. Again, this assumes that proper evidentiary objections are made and that the case is defended with a working knowledge of recent Washington DC case law.
Example Case- Unassigned Plate / Tag
State vs. D.B. (Fourth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County, Washington DC) (2013)– Our client was charged with Attaching Plate Not Assigned after allegedly affixing an incorrect license plate to his vehicle. He made multiple admissions to police and the Office of State Attorney demanded an adjudication of guilt on the offense. This would have resulted in a conviction and the creation of a permanent criminal record.
At trial, our attorneys made multiple evidentiary objections that resulted in the prosecution being unable to prove each element of the offense.
Outcome: Not Guilty. Judgment of Acquittal Granted.
Contact an Attorney
Attaching a Plate or Tag Not Assigned is a defendable charge that can often be resolved without a conviction and without a permanent criminal record. If you have been charged with Attaching a License Plate, Tag, or Validation Sticker not Assigned to your vehicle in Washington DC or elsewhere in Southeast Washington DC, contact attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein for a free consultation.