How a discarded license plate led to a nightmare for innocent man

Originally published at: How a discarded license plate led to a nightmare for innocent man | Boing Boing


I didn’t know this- but always submit a sale notice ASAP, even if you sell to a dealership. Otherwise you can be liable for any use of the vehicle.
Also permanently deface any old plates before tossing.

Poor guy. Though he shouldn’t worry too much about disclosing the arrest to any agency licensing him for a law license. He just needs to keep the paperwork associated with the dismissal and provide copies to the licensing agency. They will check for a conviction and when there isn’t one, ignore it.

If he has the resources, he absolutely should


he’s an attorney but wasn’t smart enough to know that tossing the plates into a trash can was not a good idea? good thing he didn’t represent himself.




I assume this must happen often enough because a version of it happened to me.

Back in high school, I got some really great vanity plates that I was super happy with. Eventually, the car they were on died and I leased a new car. On a lease, I couldn’t put my vanity plates, so I popped them into the file cabinet. I was told by a friend (yeah, stupid I know) that in my state you didn’t need the front plate, and seeing many people with basically pictures on the front, I thought “hey, I’m going to put those vanity plates back on my car!”

So a few months later, at 1am, I’m driving my very pregnant wife home from work (we both worked in fast food at this time) on an almost empty street when suddenly my rear view mirror EXPLODES in light and I hear “PULL OVER NOW OR WE WILL BE FORCED TO STOP YOUR VEHICLE”. Terrified, I do so. I roll down the window and wait. Cop comes over, gun drawn, and asks my name, which I give. He says “yeah right” and tells me to get out of the car. My wife starts bawling (~8 months pregnant) which gets me really upset, but I get out. I’m cuffed and tossed into a car. My wife is cuffed and placed in another car (which really gets her going). Car is towed.

I’m in the booking area of the police station and they again ask my name. I again answer. I tell them my wallet has my ID. They take my wallet, look at my DL, and send me to the jail cell thing in the back, still cuffed. My wife is there, thankfully no cuffs, but super upset. I tell her it will be ok and somehow we must be confused with someone else. A while later, an officer comes back and again asks me my name. I again tell them. They ask me why I was in a stolen car, to which I respond in shock that it is mine and the registration is in the glove compartment. They go away, come back some time later and now ask me about my plates. I recite my plate name, then they go “no, the front plate” at which point I tell them it’s from my old car and how my friend (thanks buddy!) told me front plates don’t matter in my state. They stare at me like I’m the biggest liar and/or fool on the planet. They walk away. My wife now realizes that this is my fault and begins to lay into me. It’s around 4am now, and I’ve been up nearly 24 hours with all the adrenaline going so I am getting really worn out.

Cop comes back and asks if I can prove these are my plates. I tell them I have another at home, in the giant envelope they came in. They scoff and ask if I can have someone get them, so I have to wake up my mother and tell her a cliff notes version of this story. She shows up like 30 minutes later with plate and envelope. I’m immediately released and they tell me that the guy who my plates were issued to was a wanted criminal and considered dangerous. It’s worth saying that he was of a dramatically different racial/physical makeup than me and no clue why I would be confused with him, but there you go. It wasn’t even the same type or color car, and I obviously had two different plates on the car (with the FRONT one being the one the bad guy was issued).

This happened nearly 30 years ago now. I never got an apology of any sort and was more than a little shy around police for some time after. The whole thing could have been solved with minimal brain use by the police, but at least I didn’t go through what this guy did.


Presumption of innocence means a presumption that the cops and prosecutors can’t be trusted. This presumption is never unwarranted.


Attorneys are people. They make mistakes. It is not any surprise he wouldn’t know the license plate thing was an issue. There are a lot of quite smart mutants here but I bet a whole lot of them didn’t know about this.
Also he damned well shouldn’t defend himself because he isn’t a criminal lawyer. The field of law is huge. This idea that a civil lawyer can just represent someone in a criminal issue is plain stupid. A civil lawyer shouldn’t be representing anyone outside their specific area of law.

You shouldn’t blame someone for the terrible thing that happened because they made a mistake. That’s called victim blaming. This isn’t a FAFO kind of situation.


Victim blaming; it doesn’t help anything, or make the person who’s pointing fingers ‘look good.’


I’m blown away that merely an arrest is something people are ever required to disclose. What a mockery of innocent until proven guilty.


In Texas at least, applicants to the bar have to disclose everything to the agency licensing for the bar unless it was expunged. Arrests, convictions, discipline at and college, allegations of discipline issues at college and law school, fingerprints (full set), birth certificate, child support arrangements, any delinquency with those, credit history, marriages and previous marriages. Sometimes medical records. This is the reason why applicant files are hardcore confidential.
The arrests without convictions are to see if there is a pattern of alleged behavior. Mostly used for proving a substance abuse issue is not actually as treated as the applicant claims. Substance abuse is rarely a reason for denying a license, they usually do probationary.


Animated GIF

As we’ve seen in too many cases of mistaken identity and unsolved crimes, many cops don’t even do the bare minimum in applying common sense. I guess there’s no profit for them in doing that, despite all the money the public spends on training, salaries, and equipment. LEOs cast a wide net, and expect the courts to sort things out when they mess up (assuming their suspects make it to court with all the issues involving brutality, executions, detention without bail, and coerced confessions).


This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.