Tuesday, June 16, 2015
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. Villareal, 2008 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.