Merritt v. State, No. 71S03-0405-CR-234.

Docket NºNo. 71S03-0405-CR-234.
Citation829 N.E.2d 472
Case DateJune 17, 2005
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
829 N.E.2d 472
Jelani MERRITT, Appellant (Defendant below),
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
No. 71S03-0405-CR-234.
Supreme Court of Indiana.
June 17, 2005.

Page 473

Gregory Paul Kauffman, Hilgendorf & Kauffman, South Bend, for Appellant.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Ellen H. Meilaender, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee.

DICKSON, Justice.


The defendant, Jelani Merritt, seeks reversal of his conviction for possession of marijuana on the ground that certain evidence introduced at trial resulted from a traffic stop based upon the display of a license plate in the rear window of his vehicle, which he contends is lawful. The Court of Appeals reversed.1 We granted transfer,2 and now affirm the trial court, holding that a license plate must be affixed to the brackets provided on the rear of the vehicle, and not in the rear window.3

Page 474

The defendant believes that he did not violate any statutes and that the stop of his vehicle was illegal. According to the defendant, the placement of his license plate in the back window of his car did not violate Indiana Code § 9-18-2-26, which contains provisions regarding the display of license plates on vehicles. He contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence.

The parties agree that the defendant's arrest and ensuing charges resulted from a traffic stop made by South Bend Police Officer James Andrews. The officer stopped the vehicle approximately 12:45 p.m. for an improperly displayed license plate after he observed a license plate "stuck in the back window" of the defendant's vehicle rather than "affixed to the back of the vehicle with screws."4 The defendant asserts that the plate was securely placed inside the back window in a groove behind his rear speakers. The parties agree that the defendant was driving a Cadillac automobile, but the record does not identify the vehicle type or model nor whether the rear window glass was tinted.

Indiana Code § 9-18-2-26, labeled, "Display of license plates — Requirements," provides in part:

(a) License plates shall be displayed as follows:

(1) For a motorcycle, trailer, semitrailer, or recreational vehicle, upon the rear of the vehicle.

(2) For a farm tractor or tractor, upon the front of the vehicle.

(3) For every other vehicle, upon the rear of the vehicle.

(b) A license plate shall be securely fastened, in a horizontal position, to the vehicle for which the plate is issued:

(1) To prevent the license plate from swinging;

(2) At a height of at least twelve (12) inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom of the license plate;

(3) In a place and position that are clearly visible;

(4) Maintained free from foreign materials and in a condition to be clearly legible; and

(5) Not obstructed or obscured by tires, bumpers, accessories, or other opaque objects.

In addition, Indiana Code § 9-19-6-4, which details requirements for automobile tail lights, states in subsection (e):

Either a tail lamp or a separate lamp must be placed and constructed so as to illuminate the rear registration plate with a white light and make the plate clearly legible from a distance of fifty (50) feet to the rear. A tail lamp or tail lamps, together with a separate lamp for illuminating the rear registration plate, must be wired so as to be lighted whenever the head lamps or auxiliary driving lamps are lighted.

The State asserts that the statutory requirement that the license plate be displayed "upon the rear of the vehicle" unambiguously means that the plate must go

Page 475

on the "hindmost part" of the vehicle.5 The defendant counters that the placement of the license plate in the back window of his vehicle complied with the statute and that any ambiguities in the language within the statute should resolve in his favor. He argues that neither statute nor case law defines precisely the meaning of "rear of the vehicle."

Penal statutes should be construed strictly against the State and ambiguities should be resolved in favor of the accused.6 At the same time, however, statutes should not be narrowed so much as to exclude cases they would fairly cover.7 Also, we assume that the language in a statute was used intentionally and that every word should be given effect and meaning.8 We seek to give a statute practical application by construing it in a way favoring public convenience and avoiding absurdity, hardship, and injustice.9 And statutes concerning the same subject matter must be read together to harmonize and give effect to each.10

Significantly, the applicable statute requires the license plate to be placed "upon" the rear of the vehicle. Regardless of whether the back window qualifies as the "rear of the vehicle," the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
66 practice notes
  • Rich v. State, No. 79A05-0712-CR-687.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • July 16, 2008
    ...the State, but recognize that "statutes should not be narrowed so much as to exclude cases they would fairly cover." Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472, 475 (Ind.2005). C. Payment for Security System The State argues that the cost of a security system is a proper subject of restitution as, "[......
  • Meredith v. State, No. 89S04-0808-CR-430.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • May 28, 2009
    ...window contravenes Indiana's statutes governing proper display and illumination, thus justifying a traffic stop. See Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472 (Ind. 2005). In Merritt, this Court looked at Indiana Code § 9-18-2-26, which governs the display of license (a) License plates shall be disp......
  • Lemon v. State, No. 49A02-0605-CR-375.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • July 6, 2007
    ...by Indiana Code section 35-33-1-4(a). It is our duty to harmonize statutes such as these when they apparently conflict, Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472, 475 (Ind.2005), and we believe that the common law requirement of actual violence or the imminent threat of actual violence toward person......
  • Shepherd v. State Of Ind., No. 70A01-0908-PC-388.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • June 24, 2010
    ...by the statute.” Id. Criminal statutes are to be construed strictly against the State and in favor of the accused. Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472, 475 (Ind.2005). However, we assume that the language in the statute was used intentionally and every word should be given effect and meaning. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
66 cases
  • Rich v. State, No. 79A05-0712-CR-687.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • July 16, 2008
    ...the State, but recognize that "statutes should not be narrowed so much as to exclude cases they would fairly cover." Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472, 475 (Ind.2005). C. Payment for Security System The State argues that the cost of a security system is a proper subject of restitution as, "[......
  • Meredith v. State, No. 89S04-0808-CR-430.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • May 28, 2009
    ...window contravenes Indiana's statutes governing proper display and illumination, thus justifying a traffic stop. See Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472 (Ind. 2005). In Merritt, this Court looked at Indiana Code § 9-18-2-26, which governs the display of license (a) License plates shall be disp......
  • Lemon v. State, No. 49A02-0605-CR-375.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • July 6, 2007
    ...by Indiana Code section 35-33-1-4(a). It is our duty to harmonize statutes such as these when they apparently conflict, Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472, 475 (Ind.2005), and we believe that the common law requirement of actual violence or the imminent threat of actual violence toward person......
  • Shepherd v. State Of Ind., No. 70A01-0908-PC-388.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • June 24, 2010
    ...by the statute.” Id. Criminal statutes are to be construed strictly against the State and in favor of the accused. Merritt v. State, 829 N.E.2d 472, 475 (Ind.2005). However, we assume that the language in the statute was used intentionally and every word should be given effect and meaning. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT