Mississippi police don’t need to have perfect knowledge of other state’s laws on temporary tags


In 2009, M.H.P. Trooper Harris Bryan pulled over a vehicle for an illegal temporary out of state license. The driver, Rodrigo Godinez, consented to a search and $20,800 was found in three separate bundles. A small amount of shake (loose marijuana) was also found in the vehicle.

Two other adults were in the vehicle and five grams of marijuana was found on one of those passengers. The money was seized and forfeited to the state. On a forfeiture appeal, Godinez and the two passengers argued the initial stop was illegal. MCOA affirmed.


The license plate contained a paper temporary tag from Illinois. The record contains a photograph of the tag, which shows it as faded and partially obscured by a license plate frame. The tag has a dating system with a year (“09″) and a month (“Oct”) punched out, but the text is too small to be read from a distance.

The stop occurred on October 2, 2009. The temporary tag could be read as expiring on the first day of October 2009, the first day of November 2009, or some unspecified day in October 2009.

It was established during the trial that it was, in actuality, still good at the time of the stop; the registration gives the expiration date as October 29, 2009. Given that the stop occurred on October 2, if Bryan had a perfect knowledge of Illinois custom, he would have known the tag had only a small chance of being expired.

However, the question before us is reasonable suspicion, and we do not think a Mississippi State Trooper can be charged with perfect knowledge of other states’ conventions regarding temporary tags. The facts that the claimants’ tag was faded, partially covered, had an ambiguous expiration date, and had writing too small to read from the highway are sufficient to create reasonable suspicion warranting further investigation into its validity.

The claimants suggest Bryan did not make an investigatory stop but had already made up his mind the tag was invalid when he made the stop. According to Godinez, Bryan walked over, told him the tag was invalid, and asked to see his driver’s license.

However, even if it were the case that Trooper Bryan erroneously believed the tag was invalid, the law is clear that the question is not what he subjectively believed, but what the facts indicated to an objectively reasonable police officer.

As to whether Bryan exceeded the scope of the investigatory stop, an officer in an investigatory stop of a vehicle may ask the driver for his license and registration. See Horton v. State, 408 So. 2d 1197 (Miss. 1982). Godinez immediately admitted he did not have a driver’s license, so there clearly was probable cause to continue holding the vehicle after that time.