Thursday, August 2, 2012

Forgetting to change your address on your vehicle registration

Welcome to my new blog. I've been kicking around the idea of starting one on this topic for a number of reasons: the excessively high number of people incarcerated in this country - more than any other country in the world - as well as the vast variety of "crimes" that can get you incarcerated.

I am also motivated to write from an experience, five years ago. During a late-night drive through a rural stretch of Polk County, Fla., a sheriff's deputy pulled me over because my tag light was out. (A cop I talked to who used to work in Tampa told me that he hopes he's never bored enough to pull somebody over for that.) During the traffic stop, the deputy discovered that my driver's license had a different address than my vehicle registration. I had moved a few months before and changed the address on one document, but I forgot to update the other.

After telling me that she was not going to arrest me, the deputy gave me a notice to appear in court.

Wait, what now?

As it turns out, Florida law is specific when it comes to the timetable for updating your address. It is spelled out in statute 320.02(4):
"The owner of any motor vehicle registered in the state shall notify the department in writing of any change of address within 20 days of such change. The notification shall include the registration license plate number, the vehicle identification number (VIN) or title certificate number, year of vehicle make, and the owner’s full name."
What's missing from that is the penalty. That's covered in the miscellaneous clause of 320.57(1), which says that anything without a specified penalty is a second-degree misdemeanor.

Thankfully, I did not serve any jail time. I ended up with sizable court costs (a significant percentage of which went to the Polk County Sheriff's Office), four hours of driving to and from the courthouse in Bartow, a half-day's worth of work to catch up on, and a misdemeanor on my record. The judge herself was even apologetic about it, mildly questioning the Legislature's judgment in making this offense a misdemeanor, and lamenting the fact that she was legally obligated to adjudicate it.

Dash getting dusty? Better check to see if your registration is current.
The chilling fact, though, is that I could have gone to jail for as long as 60 days. For a simple oversight, I was faced with the prospect of two months behind bars, which would likely have cost me my job, not to mention my freedom.

I was fortunate. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country have lost their freedom due to police exuberance, prosecutorial misconduct, legislative posturing, societal paranoia and bad luck. It's not just bad guys who are put away.

The purpose of this blog is to call attention to the many things that you can do that could land you in jail, but shouldn't. Hopefully this will not only keep you out of trouble, but also help call attention to the many absurdities that make us far from a free country.

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