Updated: February 6, 2024 by Sean McQuaid
Police are cracking down on these technical violations. It is a criminal offense to drive with an unassigned, fake or false license plate in Florida and can result in penalties such as fines, jail time, and a permanent criminal record.
If you’ve been caught driving with a false license plate in Florida, then a criminal defense attorney can help you minimize and/or avoid penalties.
In this blog, we’ll explain the charge and how our Florida criminal defense attorneys can defend you.
What Is a False License Plate or ‘Not Assigned’ Plate Charge in Florida?
Florida Statute 320.261 states that it is a criminal offense for an individual to knowingly attach a registration license plate or validation sticker to a vehicle, if it was not issued, valid or assigned to the vehicle.
This crime is often referred to as a ‘fake’ or ‘false license plate’ but the law calls it – ‘attaching a plate not assigned.’
We see a lot of these charges when someone grabs a plate to hide the fact that their real license plate will show they had a suspended license. The other most common violation is using a dealer tag when the car should not be getting one. If you find an officer who has nothing better to do, both you and your friend who gave you the dealer tag could be in trouble.
How Is a False License Plate Charge Proven?
For any fake or false license plate in Florida crime to be proven, the following three factors must be established ‘beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You attached the registration license plate or validation sticker to the vehicle.
- The license plate or validation sticker was not lawfully issued or assigned to that vehicle.
- You knew that the license plate or validation sticker was false, not lawfully issued or assigned to the vehicle.
What Are the Penalties for Driving With a False License Plate in Florida?
Driving with an unassigned, fake or false license plate in Florida is a second-degree misdemeanor. The maximum statutory penalties are:
- Up to 60 days in jail
- Or six months probation
- A $500 fine.
Permanent Criminal Record
For most first-time offenders, these penalties are unlikely to be so severe. However, there is a big risk that if found guilty, you could face a fine and a conviction on your record. The more times you get caught, the worse that it will get for you.
Anyone convicted of driving with a false license plate in Florida will be permanently barred from expunging or sealing their record.
So, although it may seem like a minor traffic offense, the crime could haunt you.
Criminal records can restrict you with employment applications, housing, career opportunities, security checks, college applications, insurance and many other personal and professional situations.
How to Defend a False License Plate Charge in Florida?
Thankfully, as Florida criminal defense attorneys, we can help.
There are numerous routes to defending a charge for driving with a false license plate in Florida. This is why it’s highly advised that you never plead guilty or admit fault, without first speaking to an attorney.
Show That You Didn’t Know It Was Unassigned
In most cases, it’s tough for the prosecution to prove you attached the license plate, tag or sticker yourself – or even that you knew it wasn’t assigned to the vehicle.
If you never admit guilt or wrongdoing to law enforcement, there is usually no evidence to prove you knew the attached plate was invalid, expired or incorrect.
We’ve seen countless scenarios where people acquire a car with a plate already attached – having placed trust in the car dealership or previous owner that it was valid. However, it later turns out that it was a mistake and the plate was fake or invalid.
Lack of Evidence
The state will require an independent witness or other proof to uphold the charge, which can be difficult. Police are rarely present during the attachment of the plate and there are rarely documents proving you knew.
Even if you admit to law enforcement that you attached the fake or false plate and knew it was incorrect, your statements are not admissible unless the State can establish each element of the crime – with evidence.
Proving you lacked knowledge or arguing there is a lack of evidence requires the convincing work of an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney.
Attaching a plate not assigned is also generally very defendable because the prosecutors here in Florida often lack the skills to properly prove the charge.
Simply Get the Vehicle Registered Properly
Rather than playing games, just fix the problem. The court will much rather have the vehicle registered and insured than put you in jail.
Can My ‘False License Plate in Florida’ Case Be Dropped?
The best defense to a charge like this is simply to get the car properly registered. Often, if we walk into court and the problem has been solved, the charge can be amended or dropped! Sometimes it is that simple.
In the worst case scenario where there is evidence, our Florida criminal defense attorneys can also show that mitigating circumstances should call for less severe penalties – which could potentially help you avoid jail time and reduce fines.
What to Do if You’ve Been Stopped for a False License Plate in Florida?
- Never admit fault or guilt.
- Do not say that you knew it was an unassigned plate or that you attached the tag.
- Contact a Florida criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Illegal Tag Frames
Did you know that the majority of Florida drivers are violating traffic law without even knowing it?
Tag frames often cover up parts of the license plate, which can obstruct key information or make plate identification difficult for law enforcement officers.
Tag frames can be anything from dealership branding to sports team logos and tinted covers. License plates are effectively on loan from the state and should never be obstructed.
This law is very rarely enforced, but if you are stopped because your tag frame is obstructing your license plate then you could end up in hot water.
If this has happened to you, you can contact our Florida criminal defense attorneys who can defend your rights to get the case dropped, or charges reduced.
For example, many people use the original tag frame provided by the dealership, so are usually not to blame.
False License Plate Attorney in Pinellas County, FL
If you’re facing charges for a fake, false or not assigned license plate in Florida, you must contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Over the years we’ve had considerable success in getting these cases thrown out, penalties minimized and futures protected from permanent criminal records.
Sean McQuaid is a top-rated criminal defense attorney in Pinellas County. He was the President of the St. Petersburg Bar Association from 2020-21, a group of 1,100 lawyers and judges in the area. He is the managing partner at Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A., one of Tampa Bay’s most prestigious law firms with the reputation and connections to make things happen.
With decades of experience helping people like you, we believe there is no better place to help you fight or reduce an unassigned license plate charge in Florida.
Contact us today for a free consultation to get started or CALL (727) 381-2300