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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Texas Transportation Code �502.409(a)(7) provides in relevant part: “A person commits an offense if the person attaches to or displays on a motor vehicle a number plate or registration insignia that . . . has a coating, covering, or protective material that: . . . alters or obscures the letters or numbers on the plate, the color of the plate, or another original design feature of the plate.” A police officer stopped Craig Hill Johnson solely because a license plate frame partially obscured the license plate on his car. The license plates on Hill’s car were the standard Texas design. The frame partially obscured the word “Texas,” fully obscured the nickname “Lone Star State,” and obscured a depiction of a space shuttle in a nighttime sky. After the stop, the officer determined that Johnson was intoxicated and arrested him for driving while intoxicated. Before his trial, Johnson moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the stop on the ground that his license plate frame did not violate the law. The trial court granted the motion, and the state appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Johnson violated �502.409(a)(7). HOLDING:Affirmed. The Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) stated that the state name and nickname on the basic Texas license plate plainly constitute original design features of the plate, the obscuring of which �502.409(a)(7) prohibits. An application of �502.409(a)(7) to Johnson’s situation is justified, the CCA found, because it does not lead to an absurd result that the Legislature could not have possibly intended. The Legislature added �502.409(a)(7)(B), the court noted, after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a motorist did not violate the law when his license plate frame obscured the name of the issuing state. It is reasonable to infer, the CCA stated, that �502.409(a)(7)(B) was a legislative response to that decision. The court also posited that the Legislature perhaps wished to require the entire design of a license plate to be displayed to facilitate the quick detection of counterfeits. License plates are primarily functional items, the court stated, and it is not unreasonable to prohibit decorative items or accessories that affect that functionality even to a small degree. The CCA further stated that it was mindful of the proposition that courts must construe criminal statutes outside of the Texas Penal Code strictly, with any doubt resolved in favor of the accused. But the CCA found no such doubt in plain language of the statute. OPINION:Keller, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court in which Price, Womack, Keasler, Hervey, Holcomb and Cochran, J.J., joined. CONCURRENCES:Johnson, J., filed a concurring opinion. “A law requiring that the license-plate number and the name of the issuing jurisdiction be unobstructed would be sufficient for the purpose of law enforcement. Being able to view”another original design feature of the plate’ neither assists in identifying the vehicle nor advances the interest of the state in being able to do so. . . . In this case, the plate number was clearly visible, but half of”Texas’ was obscured. The name of the issuing jurisdiction is critical to appropriate police needs and mandating a clear view of it is easily justified. On the facts of this case, I concur.” Cochran, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Price and Johnson, J.J., joined. “This is an uncommonly bad law. It is a”gotcha’ law because it allows the police to arbitrarily stop, ticket, arrest, and search any person who is driving a car whose license plate frame covers up any portion of that plate’s design. . . . [T]he vast majority of drivers on Texas roads and highways can be stopped and arrested at any given moment.” DISSENT:Meyers, J., filed a dissenting opinion. “[N]owhere in the statute does it say who is violating the statute if the car has such a license plate cover. Is it the person who put the cover around the license plate? Is it the car’s owner? Is it the driver of the car? . . . This ambiguity in the statute makes it unconstitutionally vague. As a result, it should not be used as the basis for a stop.”

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