In Arizona, there is a statute that says you cannot display a fictitious plate on your car. A.R.S. 28-2531B1 reads:
A person is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor who displays or possesses a registration card or license plate knowing it to be fictitious or to have been stolen, canceled, revoked, suspended or altered.
Now that statute says it is illegal to even possess a fictitious plate, but we almost always see this charge made against drivers who have put a license plate on their car that is not valid.
What makes a license plate fictitious?
Fictitious means not real, or not true. A license plate can be considered fictitious under a number of circumstances. The most common situations we see are:
The vehicle registration associated with the plate has been revoked or suspended.
The registration sticker on the license plate belongs to another vehicle.
The license plate on the vehicle belongs to another vehicle.
Why would someone use a fictitious plate?
There are probably many reasons, but the ones we see most often include:
The driver owns more than one vehicle, and there is some inability to properly register one of the vehicles. Perhaps there is an emissions issue or a title defect that is holding up the registration. The driver then affixes a license plate from another vehicle onto the unregistered vehicle because they want to drive it. In this case, we can often avoid the criminal charge if the driver gets the unregistered vehicle registered and gets a legitimate license plate on the vehicle.
A driver may have their license plate stolen without their knowledge and replaced with another plate. I don’t know about you, but I could not tell you what my license plate number is without going out and looking at my car. It could take months or years for a driver to notice that someone had swapped out their license plate. Here again, correcting the situation can go a long way towards favorably resolving the charge.
How do you defend against a fictitious plate charge?
The first step is always correcting the license plate issue. Make sure the car that was displaying the fictitious plate is properly registered and displaying a valid license plate.
The second step is having an explanation as to why there was a fictitious plate on the car in the first place.
Third, the driver’s background and driving history can be helpful in achieving a good outcome. Ideally the driver’s record is free from any violations.
Then we try to negotiate an outcome wherein the charge is dismissed or reduced to a civil registration violation with a nominal fine.
If we cannot negotiate a favorable outcome, then we may have to take the charge to trial. Unlike most misdemeanor traffic violations, this particular statute requires that the driver used the license plate “knowing” it was fictitious. If the person did not know the plate was fictitious, like the situation where someone stole their license plate and replaced it with another plate, then we have a defense.
What are the consequences of a conviction?
If you are convicted of knowingly displaying a fictitious plate, you are guilty of committing a class 2 misdemeanor. Because this is a class 2 misdemeanor, you are facing a $750 fine plus surcharges of $630, up to 4 months in jail, and probation. In reality, jail is unlikely though. This is not technically a moving violation, so there are no points associated with this violation.