EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

An Addendum to the Addendum: More on Mobile NCIC Plate Checks

National Crime Information Center (NCIC)...is a national crime information center run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation...."[P]retty much anything that any of us do[es]," including obtaining a job or applying for a new social security card, immigration card, or driver's license in any state, is cross-referenced by NCIC. United States v. Villareal2008 WL 1995042 (N.D.Fla. 2008).

In last night's Addendum Episode of the Undisclosed Podcast, Susan Simpson noted that two "plate checks" were done by Baltimore County Police Officers using mobile NCIC devices on February 4, 1999. Given that Hae Min Lee's car was found 2 miles east of the border between Baltimore County and Baltimore City, this is strong circumstantial evidence that Hae's Sentra was in Baltimore County and not on Edgewood Road (in Baltimore City) on February 4th. So, what was the purpose of the mobile plate checks?

Every single case I've found involving a mobile plate check has involved a police officer coming upon a car during his patrol. Maybe the car was seemingly being used for illicit behavior. Maybe it appeared to have been parked in a location for too long. Maybe there was no good reason for the plate check. Here are a few examples:

Officer Gallagher testified that he was on routine patrol in his scout car when he saw Duckett driving a four-door Ford with standard metal District of Columbia license plates affixed to the vehicle. Although Officer Gallagher had no reason to focus on Duckett's car, he “arbitrarily” entered its license plate number in the mobile computer terminal in his scout car to retrieve information about it from the Washington Area Law Enforcement System ("WALES") and the National Criminal Information Center ("NCIC") databases. Duckett v. United States, 886 A.2d 548 (D.C.App. 2005);


Before Officer Hutchins consulted the NCIC database, the suspicious circumstances of the exchange between the two parked cars in an area known for drug crimes had already aroused in him a reasonable suspicion that something illicit was underfoot....Officer Hutchins checked the NCIC database on his mobile monitor, learned the car was reportedly stolen, and called a dispatcher to confirm the status of the car. Bryant v. United States, 2013 WL 4079339 (N.D.Ala. 2013);


The trial court found that on April 24, 2000, a police officer was traveling behind a vehicle operated by Appellant....The officer ran the registration of the vehicle through the mobile NCIC device in his police vehicle....The computer indicated that the vehicle, though registered, lacked the proper financial responsibility as required by the Motor Vehicle Code....The officer then stopped Appellant and further discovered through use of the NCIC computer that Appellant was operating the vehicle on a suspended license. Commonwealth v. Bolton, 831 A.2d 734 (Pa.Super. 2003)

Probably the most common use of a mobile NCIC plate check that I've seen is an officer running an NCIC check as part of a routine traffic stop. Such behavior is so commonplace that a good deal of precedent has been developed on this tactic across the country. See, e.g., Sloane v. State, 939 A.2d 796, 804 (N.J. 2008) ("Many jurisdictions have found that running an NCIC check, in addition to a driver's license check, is within the scope of a traffic stop and is permissible so long as it does not unreasonably extend the time of the stop.").

So, where does that leave us? It seems pretty clear that that the Baltimore County police officers came upon Hae's car during their patrol(s). But it's much less clear exactly what prompted them to run the NCIC plate check.



| Permalink


Can you decode some of the field info in the report? I’m wondering if the codes for terminal IDs and origin might shed some light on location. Also, what’s the significance of the Harford Co Emergency Operation as an agency listed, and the codes for all but one of the BCPD agencies?

Posted by: streetwriter | Jun 16, 2015 7:01:34 AM

I truly do not understand why there wasn't any kind of BOLO for Hae's car tag! So much of this case frustrates me.

Posted by: Cindy | Jun 16, 2015 7:05:48 AM

What’s also clear is the detectives failed to enter an alert into the system that would have notified any law enforcement officer running a plate check on Hae’s car that the vehicle was associated with a homicide victim. That’s inexcusable in my opinion, as is so much else with this case.

It’s obvious enough from the evidence submitted & analyzed by you, Susan and Rabia that the car was moved to the location Jay allegedly led the detectives to, and that it was moved shortly before that since it was spotless as though it had been garaged and/or washed beforehand, not to mention the green grass beneath the car and on the wheels.

I don’t believe the proximity of the moving of the car to the time the car was located by Jay & the detectives is coincidence. It’s too convenient. Hypothetically speaking, if the corrupt detectives had the car moved, what would be the reason? Is there a jurisdictional issue that could compromise the detectives’ intention to pin this on Adnan? If so, and in fact they did move it, they would have to hotwire it to do so and that would explain the damage to the ignition casing because unlike the killer they wouldn’t have had the key. But here’s the catch — why clean it — at least on the outside? I don’t buy it was a carjacker because the windows weren’t broken and Sentras aren’t sought after cars, but if the detectives had it moved, and I believe they did, they could explain it away as a carjacking if called to the carpet.

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Jun 16, 2015 7:18:38 AM

Do we know how the police opened the trunk while processing the car?

Posted by: Silverlock | Jun 16, 2015 7:58:55 AM

Wouldn't the database also flag the car as being associated with a missing person investigation? It seems more likely to me that the plate checks were done while the vehicle was stationary. If the plate checks were done during a traffic stop, I infer that to mean that someone was pulled over. The driver wouldn't have been able to produce registration in his/her name. However, maybe cops routinely run plate checks on moving vehicles without ever pulling them over. That would mean that the database did not flag her vehicle.

As a lawyer myself, I am impressed with the Undisclosed team and the creative methods used to uncover more details and discrepancies about this case. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Holly | Jun 16, 2015 8:05:39 AM

Is it possible that the officers patrolling the area saw the idle car, left it alone... same officers come around later, notice the same car in the same place. Idle. Possibly abandoned? Run the plates then to see if anything pops up.

Posted by: sara | Jun 16, 2015 8:34:21 AM

Are the details of the officers who ran the NCIC plate checks available? Long shot, but can someone ask them if they remember why they ran the check and where?

Posted by: Peter | Jun 16, 2015 8:55:33 AM

I'm wondering why Jay's intercept interview alone isn't grounds for a new trial for Adnan? In Jay's recent interview, he changes some significant details of his story. That's essentially admitting that he lied under oath in both trials. Since nearly the entire case is built around Jay's narrative, and now he is admitting he lied in court, how can any of the narrative that lead to Adnan's conviction be considered true? It seems like you would automatically award a new trial?

Posted by: Kassie | Jun 16, 2015 9:25:03 AM

Peter: i was wondering the same thing. i'd think they could trace the report to the car at least and then try and trace that patrol car for that given day to see who had it.

Posted by: Jake | Jun 16, 2015 9:40:55 AM

The NCIC Request also shows additional requests from the Baltimore County PD on 1/14, 1/15 and 1/29, as well as another request on 1/14 from Harford Co. Emergency Operation. Is there any reason to suspect these are something different than the 2/4 ones? If they're the same, it is really chilling that the days right after her disappearance, her car was somewhere or doing something to raise suspicion

Posted by: Emily | Jun 16, 2015 9:53:30 AM

where or where is the pager Hae owned?

Posted by: call me curious George | Jun 16, 2015 10:02:34 AM

One of the purposes of doing a national search in NCIC is to see if Hae's vehicle had turned up in an investigation or located by another federal or state law enforcement agency. The reason why the searches were done by Baltimore County PD was because they were conducting the missing persons investigation (not that the vehicle had been actually been located).
(1) Hae's vehicle info had been entered into the FBI-NCIC database, most likely the night of 1/13 when Ofc. Adcock filed his initial report.
(2) The report generated on 2/24 is a list of all stored searches for Hae's vehicle in the NCIC database. The report showed that Baltimore Co. PD had run searches in the NCIC system on the following dates: 1/14, 1/15, 1/29, and 2/4. Hae's body was found on 2/9, so the searches were conducted while it was still a missing persons case.
(3) Baltimore Co. PD was periodically searching NCIC to see if the missing vehicle had been located. They were not searching NCIC because they actually found the vehicle in the field.

For example, we know that officers were conducting the field search for Hae's vehicle into the early morning of 1/14 from Ofc. Adcock's and Ofc. Waters' missing persons reports. Therefore it makes sense to see that a Balt. Co PD officer also conducted a NCIC search for the vehicle on 1/14 @ 4:46 am. Ofc. Waters' 1/14 report notes that Harford Co. Sheriff's Dept was asked by Balt. Co PD to do a field search for the vehicle. Accordingly, we can see that the other NCIC search on Hae's vehicle on 1/14 @ 2:48 am is listed as Harford Co. It appears another search was done the followind day on 1/15, then 2 weeks later on 1/29 and then the final checks were done on 2/4.

If Baltimore city or any other jurisdiction had located the vehicle and run a check, it would have been on O'Shea's 2/24 report.

NCIC also has query for missing persons, so Hae's information was most likely also entered in the NCIC database and periodically searched by Baltimore Co. PD for hits as well.

Posted by: Nine9fifty50 | Jun 16, 2015 10:12:22 AM

Emily - wow that's really a good point. Is there *any* possibility Harford & Baltimore County folks were calling the car in because they knew there was a missing person and thought that would be a possible way to track her? Because if not, and it definitely means the car was way on the other side of the Baltimore metro area, that's a reveal as stunning as any we've seen. Destroys the state's timeline (again). And brings in another major question - wtf was the car doing an hour (minimum) away from where anyone was supposed to be? Does anyone involved have any connections to that part of the state? Argh.

Posted by: Jonathan | Jun 16, 2015 10:39:25 AM

Streetwriter: I don’t know much beyond MDT meaning that it was done from a mobile unit.

Cindy and Cold: Yes, very frustrating.

Silverlock: No. I wish we knew.

Holly: Yes, my guess is that the car was stationary.

Sara: That’s definitely a possibility.

Peter: As far as I know, the answer is “no.”

Kassie: He does change some key details but still maintains that Adnan killed Hae. Therefore, it’s probably not enough for a new trial.

Emily: The 1/14 and 1/15 checks are right after Hae was missing, which would make sense. The 1/29 check was from the police station, so it was likely a check to see whether the car was found. The 2/4 checks were mobile checks, which points toward the officer(s) seeing Hae’s car during their patrol.

George: I wish we knew.

Nine9fifty50: I think we agree on everything except for the 2/4 plate checks. These were done on mobile units, which seems to indicate pretty clearly that the officers saw the car on their patrol. That is what both Susan and I have been told by people involved in law enforcement.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 16, 2015 11:00:02 AM

Curious George, that’s the key — the pager. Maybe it’s amongst Roy Davis’s personal belongings (wherever they are now) along with the key to the Sentra — sitting there waiting to be discovered. Maybe not. If the pager was found intact, perhaps the last number is Hae’s hair stylist, Roy Davis’s wife — or so Hae thought. Maybe not. Would n’t it be mind-blowing if Roy Davis’s wife was Hae’s hair stylist? Could we find out? Maybe Ritz, Macgillivary and Urick can tell us. Maybe not. Damn this all to hell!!

Posted by: Cold N. Holefield | Jun 16, 2015 11:01:39 AM

Why weren't nearby residents to the lot car was found in interviewed? Asked how long the car had been there; if they had seen anyone in or near it. This is uncomprehensible to me.

Posted by: JTS | Jun 16, 2015 11:21:33 AM

The checks done on 1/14 and 1/15 also have "MDTxxx" listed after the agency name, so does that imply that those also were done from mobile units instead of a central office?

Posted by: Silverlock | Jun 16, 2015 11:28:13 AM

Could you explain what tells you that the 2/4 plate checks are mobile units and the others are not? Do you know whether Hae's plates should have turned up as linked to a missing persons investigation on 2/4 if a patrol car had run the plates?

Posted by: Jane | Jun 16, 2015 11:29:29 AM

I don't see what is unique about the 2/4 searches. The 1/14 and 1/15 checks were done by officers in the field as well. That makes sense from the narratives of the missing persons reports and the nature of the search- For example, the 1/14 missing persons reports shows that officers were in the field on 1/14 searching for the vehicle. An NCIC search was done from the field on 1/14. Are you saying this means they actually found the vehicle the morning of 1/14?

The Harford Co. Sherriff's Dept officer was in the field searching for the vehicle on 1/14 at the requested of Baltimore County. A NCIC search was conducted by Harford Co. on 1/14.

The search continued on 1/15 and another NCIC query was done by an officer in the field.

They were doing a national search to see if the vehicle had turned up, perhaps in another jurisdiction.

I'm sure Hae's name and description would have also been entered into the NCIC database as a missing person and an officer would be periodically checking the database to see if she turned up somewhere else in the country.

Posted by: Nine9fifty50 | Jun 16, 2015 11:29:42 AM

"These were done on mobile units, which seems to indicate pretty clearly that the officers saw the car on their patrol."

The queries from the 14th and 15th also appear to be done from mobile data terminals. Do you see how your logic is flawed?

Posted by: davieb | Jun 16, 2015 11:30:12 AM

As to mobile NCIC search: The officers could simply have been using their mobile device to run outstanding license plate checks in a moment of down time while out on patrol. One easy way to tell is whether there were other cars done at the same time that would have been on similar types of lists (missing persons or w/e).

Posted by: lawd00der | Jun 16, 2015 11:30:48 AM

mobile units could be a bit like ipads .. Wow, I'm bored .. Hey look at the paper today ... Lets search that registration number?

Posted by: Sarah hopewell | Jun 16, 2015 11:53:44 AM

Cold: Yes, the pager really could be the key to this case.

JTS: Yes, I can’t believe that no one from those row house was ever (apparently) contacted.

Jane: The MDT shows that the plate checks were done from mobile units.

Silverlock, Nine9Fifty50, davieb, and lawd00der: From what I’ve been told, mobile plate checks in the days after a person disappears are not uncommon and are often repeated. On the other hand, it is odd to have one, let alone two, mobile plate checks weeks after a person has disappeared. The people I’ve contacted (and the cases I’ve found) all seem to point to the 2/4 mobile plate checks being officers coming upon Hae’s car during their patrol.

Sarah: Here’s how one former police officer described it to me: “I used to run tags when I was stopped at a stoplight, just to see if anything would pop up (stolen car, tag on the wrong car, expired registration, suspended license, owner with warrants).”

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 16, 2015 12:14:10 PM

Yeah, figured out the MDT thing right after I posted. Thanks, though!

Follow up, wouldn't it then be a pretty huge coincidence that 2 checks were done on the same plate the same day at 2 different times if it wasn't related to the investigation? I get what you are saying about officers sitting around running plates for kicks, but twice on the same car?

Posted by: Jane | Jun 16, 2015 12:26:55 PM

Jane: I actually have the opposite take. It’s easy to imagine (1) a first officer conducting a mobile plate check on a suspicious vehicle and a second officer following up on the first plate check; or (2) a first officer conducting a mobile plate check on a suspicious vehicle and a second officer then conducting a second mobile plate check on that suspicious vehicle. On the other hand, it seems odd to me that two random officers on February 4th would both decide to run a plate check for Hae’s Sentra when they were driving around. It would also be odd for the second officer to follow up on the plate check mere hours later if he was aware of the prior plate check.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 16, 2015 12:36:32 PM

Post a comment