If you have ever purchased a vehicle from an automobile dealership, you are familiar with the temporary paper license plate that is placed on your vehicle. This allows you to legally operate the car on the road following purchase, and it also gives any law enforcement officer that is running your plates through the license plate database all the same information that a metal plate number provides – including the owner, the seller, the type of vehicle the tag number it is associated with, and any other pertinent information.
However, the use of paper plates has led to a large increase in the number of instances of plate fraud. The old plates were easily reproducible and because of the unfamiliarity of law enforcement with the plates, many times the plates were ignored. This increase led Texas to redesign its paper plates to included hard-to-duplicate threads in the paper used, as well as a watermark in the corner of the plate that makes photocopying nearly impossible.
Fraudulently displaying a fake license plate, paper or otherwise, in Texas is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 180 days (six months) in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. Additionally, if it is shown at trial that an individual knowingly altered or made illegible the letters, numbers, or other identification marks on a license plate, that individual could be subject to the same punishment as displaying a fake license plate.
Law enforcement officials are being trained on spotting and running paper plates. The redesigned paper plates go into circulation this month, but there will be a 60-day period where both the old and new plates are being used. Prosecution of the use of fake plates is important because in some instances the use of fake plates is for furthering some other violation of law.
This change only applies to dealer-issued paper tags; it will not apply to paper tags obtained by individual drivers such as short-term permits and one-way trip tags. Law enforcement officers are worried this will allow fraud to continue; however, the same security features will be added to all paper tags by June, meaning that the period for tag fraud with paper tags is hopefully drawing to a close.
Gary L. Medlin, a Criminal Fraud Attorney with The Medlin Law Firm in Ft. Worth, Texas, has over 35 years of criminal law practice. He can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.