Vehicle Code 5201 CVC is one of California’s statutes on license plates and the display of plates. People commit an offense under this law if they either fail to securely fasten their license plates to their motor vehicles, or fail to keep their plates clearly visible and legible. A violation of this code section is an infraction punishable by a fine of $196.
The language of CVC 5201 states: “License plates, including temporary license plates, shall at all times be securely fastened to the vehicle for which they are issued so as to prevent the plates from swinging, shall be mounted in a position so as to be clearly visible, and so that the characters are upright and display from left to right, and shall be maintained in a condition so as to be clearly legible.”
- driving a car with a dangling front license plate.
- operating a vehicle while knowing that both the front and rear license plates are covered by mud.
- putting a temporary license plate on top of a car’s dashboard and not fastening it to the vehicle.
A person can contest a charge under this statute with a legal defense. A few common defenses include people showing that:
- law enforcement made a mistake,
- an exception under the law applies, and/or
- a peace officer did not have probable cause to stop the driver.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What does California law say about fastening a license plate?
- 2. Can an accused raise a legal defense?
- 3. What are the penalties for violating VC 5201?
- 4. Are there similar offenses?
1. What does California law say about fastening a license plate?
Vehicle Code 5201 sets forth the following requirements that vehicle owners must follow regarding their cars’ license plates:
- owners must securely fasten their plates, including front license plates and rear plates, to their vehicles, and
- drivers must keep their license plates, and license plate numbers, visible and legible at all times.1
As to the mounting of plates, the statute reads that the rear license plate shall be mounted not less than 12 inches nor more than 60 inches from the ground. For front plates, they shall be mounted not more than 60 inches from the ground.2
Several exceptions to this last rule do apply. The exceptions apply to certain vehicles, like:
- tow trucks,
- tank vehicles, and
- garbage trucks.
VC 5201(b) also prohibits an owner of the vehicle to place a covering over a license plate.3 Again, some exceptions apply. For instance, the installation of a license plate security cover is not a violation of this law if the device does not obstruct or impair the recognition of license plate information.4
However, a casing, placard, or covering cannot be used if it impairs or obstructs the recognition of a license plate by an:
- electronic device operated by law enforcement, or
- electronic device operated in connection with a toll road, toll bridge, or a remote emission sensing device.5
2. Can an accused raise a legal defense?
Lawyers that help clients contest traffic tickets draw upon certain legal strategies to challenge these sorts of charges. Three common ones include attorneys showing that:
- the police made a mistake.
- an exception applies.
- the police did not have probable cause to stop a driver.
2.1 Mistake by Police
Sometimes a police officer or a member of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) may mistakenly charge a person with a violation of this section. There are times when it is difficult to determine if a license plate is mounted properly or securely fastened. Therefore, people can always challenge a ticket by showing that the police made a mistake.
There are several exceptions that apply under this law. For example, there are exceptions to the proper mounting of license plates and exceptions to plate coverings. This means people can always try to assert that the law does not apply to them because they fall under ones of these exceptions.
2.3 No probable cause
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.
If a person was stopped or arrested for violating CVC 5201, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. The result is that a judge could dismiss a case or reduce a person’s charges.
3. What are the penalties for violating CVC 5201?
Traffic violations under this law are treated as infractions. Violations result in a person receiving a traffic ticket and a fine of $196.
Note that a violation does not result in any points being assessed against a person’s driver’s license or the driver’s DMV record.
4. Are there similar laws?
There are three laws similar to CVC 5201 These are:
- display of license plates – VC 5200,
- attaching registration tabs – VC 5204, and/or
- misuse of vehicle registration – VC 4462.5.
4.1 Display of license plates – VC 5200
Per VC 5200, display of license plates refers to the law that states:
- if the DMV issues a driver two license plates, he must put one on the front of the vehicle and one on the rear, and
- if the DMV issues a motorist just one plate, he must put it on the rear of the car.
Note that “rear of the car” does not mean a driver can display a plate within a vehicle’s rear window. The plate has to be attached to the car in accordance with VC 5201a.
4.2 Attaching registration tabs – CVC 5204
Per CVC 5204, attaching registration tabs refers to the law that requires drivers to properly affix tabs to their rear license plate. These stickers or decals indicate the current month and year that a person’s vehicle registration expires.
As with a violation of VC 5201, a violation of this law is an infraction that is punishable by a traffic ticket and a fine.
4.3 Misuse of Vehicle registration – VC 4462.5
Under VC 4462.5, misuse of vehicle registration refers to the law that makes it a crime for people to present police with a registration card that was not issued for the vehicle that the motorist was driving.
California law treats a violation of this offense as more serious than a violation involving license plates. The misuse of vehicle registration is a misdemeanor crime punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust. They also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles.
- California Vehicle Code 5201a CVC.
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code 5201c VC.
- California Vehicle Code 5201c2 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 5201c3 VC.