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Does Your Vehicle's Color Match Its Registration?

In a recent search and seizure case from the Sixth Circuit, a divided panel concluded that an investigatory stop of a vehicle in a "high crime area" was permissible where the vehicle color did not match the color listed on the registration.

In the case of U.S. V. Cooper, 09-4302 (6th Cir. 6-22-2011), a Defendant in a federal prosecution sought to suppress evidence obtained as the result of an investigatory stop of a vehicle. Police officers testified they observed the vehicle in a high crime area and that the color of the vehicle did not match the color indicated by the registration. The vehicle appeared to be a silver Toyota. The registration listed it as red. According to the testimony of the officers, this may be an indicator that the vehicle or tags have been stolen. The officers had not observed any illegal activity and were not aware of any specific reports of a stolen red or silver Toyota. The officers detained the vehicle and occupants to investigate further. That led to evidence that Defendant Cooper was illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition.

The district court granted the Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence, ruling that the seizure under those circumstances was unreasonable. On appeal of that ruling, the Sixth Circuit, in a divided opinion, reversed the district court and found the seizure to be reasonable. The majority opinion found that the district court did not properly weigh the testimony from law enforcement officers that the color discrepancy sometimes indicates a stolen vehicle or stolen tags. The Court further noted that although a "high crime" area does not alone create reasonable suspicion, it is a relevant factor to consider along with any other facts when evaluating the totality of the circumstances.

For more information on when an investigatory stop may or may not be an unreasonable search and seizure, contact Hindman and Associates.

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