Authorities Get Tough on Fake License Plates

Fake License Plates

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is fed up with the way fraudulent license plates hamstring police investigations.

Officials believe the fake license plate market began during coronavirus shutdowns, when the Department of Motor Vehicles was closed for most purposes.

Now, buyers might pay up to $2,000 for a fraudulent license plate from an online marketplace.

In recent months, fake license plates have been linked to thirty-three shootings and over five hundred car crashes. Most fake license plates are temporary tags with New Jersey or Texas markings.

Hit-and-runs and shootings are only part of the problem. “There’s also the sense of fairness that people pay to have insurance and registration, and some people are getting around that,” added NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Evidence in Hit-and-Run Cases

Frequently, law enforcement investigators have little more to go on than a partial license plate number.

So, a false plate number could derail a police investigation before it gets started. These investigations are already tough. In many jurisdictions, law enforcement agencies solve fewer than 8 percent of hit-and-run wrecks.

The high burden of proof in criminal cases probably has much to do with this low-resolution rate.

Unless the at-fault driver voluntarily comes forward or is apprehended near the scene, there is not much evidence available at the scene. Fortunately, additional evidence is available, such as:

  • Video Camera Footage: At least one security, traffic, or other camera covers pretty much every intersection and stretch of road in New York City. For court purposes, a camera lens is like an eyewitness who never forgets what s/he saw and is never biased or incorrect.
  • Additional Witness Statements: For various reasons, many accident witnesses don’t loiter at accident scenes so they can speak to police officers. But in almost every case, somebody saw something. It’s simply a matter of finding these individuals and convincing them to share their stories.
  • Body Shop Records: Hit-and-run tortfeasors (negligent drivers) know they need to lay low. So, they often take their damaged vehicles to underground body shops. These owners are not always willing to speak with police officers on the record.

Police investigators have access to this evidence. However, many police officers believe that car crashes are civil matters. They don’t want to spend valuable department resources on such disputes.

A New York personal injury attorney, often in partnership with a private investigator, has even easier access to this evidence. Many people are more willing to speak with civil attorneys than police officers.

Burden of Proof

Criminal court prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest standard of evidence in the law.

For practical purposes, unless a credible witness places the defendant behind the wheel at or near the time of the crash, there’s probably not enough evidence to support a conviction.

In contrast, personal injury attorneys must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in the law. So, it’s much easier to establish liability for damages.

How do these different burdens of proof work?

Assume witnesses say a light-colored sedan hit a pedestrian and kept going. A few minutes later, a red-light camera about a half mile away captures a clear image of Dan, who is behind the wheel of a light-colored sedan.

That evidence might or might not hold up in criminal court. After all, there are many light-colored sedans in New York City. However, that proof might hold up in civil court. It’s more likely than not, albeit not much more likely than not, that Dan hit the pedestrian.

Other Options for Victims

Many people have uninsured/under-insured motorist insurance. The premiums are generally low and the coverage is usually high. UM/UIM coverage often comes in handy in New York.

The Empire State has one of the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in the country.

At the same time, New York has one of the nation’s lowest auto insurance minimum requirements. So, many New York drivers are either uninsured or underinsured.

If an attorney cannot locate a hit-and-run tortfeasor, the UM/UIM policy could provide compensation.

This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

These policies also usually apply if the tortfeasor didn’t have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate the victim.

Hit-and-run victims usually have multiple legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC.