I Almost Ended Up in Jail Last Night

I’ll start with the lesson that I learned: Always make sure your license plate matches your registration and insurance forms that you keep in your car and that these are the same as the information the DMV has in their database.

Here’s the story.  I was driving home last night around 10:30pm on the road to Eldorado Canyon.  I drive this road hundreds of times a year and have trouble staying at the speed limit, especially when it’s late, no one is out, and I’m in a mellow happy mood.  I was listening to the XM Chill station (my favorite radio station) and reflecting on the day. 

As occasionally happens, I noticed flashing red and blue lights in my rear view mirror.  After the initial exclamation of “fuck” and a brief adrenaline rush, I slowed to a stop and pulled over to the side of the road.  As I sat in my Range Rover, I pondered how excruciatingly bright the policeman’s floodlights were. 

The policeman marched up to my car.  As I’ve been through this drill before I handed him my drivers license, registration, and insurance form.  He asked if I knew why he had pulled me over.  I suppressed the sarcastic thought that immediately rolled through my head and said “I imagine I was going too fast.”  He asked if I knew how fast I was going.  I replied “I have no idea.”  He asked me where I was going.  I responded “home – I live about three miles from here.”  He asked if there was anything he should know. I pondered this for a second and said, “No.  I’m just heading home from dinner.  I didn’t have anything to drink if that’s what you are asking.” (I hadn’t).  He took this in stride and said “Just checking – I clocked you going 63 in a 45.”  In an effort to be cute, cuddly, and charming, I replied “I have no excuse for that – I just wasn’t paying attention.”

He took my documents and went back to his car.  Fifteen minutes later I was wondering what he was working on when he came out of his car and approached mine very purposefully.  He asked, “Is this your car.”  I responded, “Yes?”  He said, “The license plate is registered to a 1990 Blue Ford Pickup truck.  Do you own one of those?”  My first response was going to be no, but then I realized we do own a 1990-ish Blue Ford Pickup truck that we use to plow our road (I never drive it because Amy doesn’t allow me to plow.)  I explained this to the officer.  He then asked, very directly, “Are you sure.” 

At this point, I was really perplexed.  I looked him directly in the eye (there hadn’t been much eye contact up to this point because the flashlight he was shining in my face was excessively bright) and said “Yes.  I’d be happy to call my wife Amy who is at our house to confirm.”  He noticeably relaxed and said, “Ok – let me tell you what’s going on.”

He started by explaining that in most situations at this point I’d be in the back of his police car handcuffed on my way to jail after having a gun drawn on me and told to get out of the car and put my hands on my head.  He saw the shocked look on my face and told me not to worry – that he’d decided the car I was in wasn’t stolen based on the documentation and my answers to his questions.  Apparently the license plate on my car was for a 1990 Blue Ford Pickup.  And while the registration number for the Range Rover had a similar license plate, it was off by one letter.  Luckily, both cars were registered to Amy (my wife) instead of me and my drivers license had the same address on it. 

He said when he first brought up the DMV data, he almost arrested me since my “1990 Blue Ford Pickup” had turned into a “2007 Black Range Rover” which is a normal type of stolen car scenario.  The only thing that stopped him from doing this was that he noticed my address was Eldorado Springs, which matched the small town in which he had pulled me over.  Since this didn’t match the stolen car scenario, he dug deeper (hence the 15 minutes) and ultimately decided that I probably hadn’t stolen the car, but instead either had the wrong license plate on it or the DMV had made an error.  Apparently I answered his questions consistently enough that he was comfortable that I wasn’t a car thief.

By this point he wanted to make sure he explained the problem clearly enough so he escorted me to his car and showed me the DMV record he had pulled up.  I wasn’t processing much of what he was saying at this point since I was just happy to get whatever ticket he was going to give me.  I also realized Amy was probably getting worried since I was now at least 30 minutes later than I said I would be so when I got back to my car I sent her a quick email.

A few minutes later my new friend the policeman came by with a ticket (yes – after all that – he gave me a ticket.)  He was almost apologetic about the ticket at this point, but said he felt compelled to give it to me since I was speeding.  Being in no mood to argue, I thanked him for the ticket and also thanked him for doing the extra bit of research that kept me out of jail.

Not surprisingly, it took me a while to fall asleep when I finally got home.  This morning we are trying to figure out if it’s a license plate error or a DMV error (it appears to be a DMV error.)  Hopefully I don’t have to visit a special part of hell to get this resolved.

  • Wow, unusually courteous policeman.

    Reminds me when I got stopped for not coming to full stop at a stop sign (sort of stopped, just not enough). This was rural PA and the cop almost got apologetic when he found out I lived 2 miles from there. Something that never happens when you're stopped further away from home.

  • Fifteen years ago, when there were very few agencies with computers in their cars (and I was a police officer), it would have been much harder and taken much, much longer to sort all that out. That is a common mistake among households with two or more vehicles, and when you have all the facts it's plain as day. The problem then was you had to "wait in line" for one teletype officer to get your information back to you in the order it was received. Then you had to wait to verify the follow-on information, etc. And, God forbid if teletype was down! 😉

    Glad it worked out OK for you, despite the ticket – and that the officer took the time to make sure you understood. Most folks have a hard time processing *anything* when they get pulled over, much less something confusing.

  • Similar thing happened to me a few months ago – they couldn't find my license plate (system wasn't connecting) and almost brought me into the big house. Luckily, they just took down my home information and phone number instead, and said they'd find me if there were any problems. (gulp!)

    Just before leaving, I asked the officer if he still had to give me a ticket after spending an hour there. He did, but suggested I challenge it. I went to court and, lo and behold, he didn't show. Score!

  • Whew. That would not have been good. I miss the days when I covered cops for the local paper so I knew most of them in the towns I was living in. Amazing how much power the cops have.

  • John May

    Since you are on the Colorado IT group perhaps you can pull some strings with the DMV to shorten your time (as well as everyone else's) time in DMV hell.

  • DaveJ

    You should have yelled at him and called him a racist (you are, after all, a member of the most persecuted ethnic group in history). You would have had to go to jail, but you'd get to have a beer with the President.

    • That’s an interesting strategy.  Funny that I didn’t think of it.

  • bill

    this happened to me in san fran about 5 years ago. DMV issued me a plate off by 1 digit on last digit. pulled over at 1130 pm just off bay bridge. cops told me the same thing-that normally i would be splayed on the head w guns drawn..but that they saw i was a clean cut white guy (they said this) so gave me the benefit of the doubt

  • It's so hard not to speed on that road. There's really no reason for the speed limit to be 45.

    We just had a problem with the registration for my wife's car because the DMV managed to apply her registration fee to a car that belonged to someone else. The wait was really short at the Boulder DMB (just after lunch) and they figured things out pretty quickly. Hopefully things will go smoothly for you as well .

  • I live near a Judge and he shared with me the best way to get out of a speeding ticket. Tell the officer that "you know they have no choice but to give you a ticket". Often times it plays on their power trip and they "show you" by indeed invoking their power NOT to give you a ticket. It worked for me once! Just a little tidbit I thought I'd share in case you get pulled over again…

  • WOW … kinda crazy that this would elicit such a strong reaction, especially since you sounded pretty courteous – good luck straightening it out.

    P.S. Just be careful about Boulder Photo Radar since you could end up getting a mugshot like this – http://www.komar.org/faq/photoradar/

    At least back then, you don't know if you got snapped until the picture shows up in the mail – SURPRISE – wife put the photo on the Fridge for a month.

  • a few years back, i was pulled over at 5:30 am on my way to catch a flight. i found it odd that it seemed there were multiple police cars behind me. over the loudspeaker the officer told me to "put my hands out of the car". i thought i had heard "get out of the car" and stepped out. when i did, there were 6 officers with guns drawn on me. i was put face down on the hood of one of the police cars and kept there while they searched my car.

    a few minutes later the lead officer apologized and said that there was a misunderstanding, that my car matched the description of an armed robber. the guns were holstered and they screeched away, leaving me shaking and in need of some fresh undergarments…

    despite an incredibly scary experience, i feel lucky that there are guys like that out there protecting us…

    • All I can say to that one is \”eek\”

  • The thing that really got me was how much thought the cop put into this. None of which was required by procedure, I'm sure.

    • I agree.  I told him that I really appreciated it.

  • Mike

    1) Always take Jail over DMV. You can get out of jail in a day or two…
    2) If in jail do what I did when I was 18(drinking on the board walk). Tell them you are going into insulin shock and you need them to inject you with pig insulin(my boss was diabetic) . They will toss you out so fast that your arms hurt from being grabbed and tossed.


  • Dez Fragge

    I had a close brush with the cops yesterday 😛
    I was out driving with my wife and baby and (heaven help me) my wife was navigating me… lol.
    Inspite of a clear No Right… I took the right on a busy crossroad!! ha ha… rest was fun….

    Luckily… the cop was kind .. probably because of my baby… and just told us " U not only turned right into a no-entry… u did it during a RED!!! please don't do it again."

    No Ticket. No fine. No deal.

    That is the best and the most unbelievable experience I have had so far on the road.

  • Hmmm. I think the rules are different for a DB9. Straight to the "you're today's bitch" section of the local pen.

  • Aaron Swanson

    I'm not certain, but it seems likely it was a boulder county sheriff's deputy, if so the software he used to figure all of this out was written right there in Boulder county at VisionTEK. So you can thank a local company for making the criminal and DMV data available to him; so that you weren't arrested.

  • I had a very similar experience. I had swapped cars with my brother and gone to the DMV to fill out the paperwork and paid all the fees so everything was legal.

    I got pulled over a year later and was told that my license plate didn't match the car it was registered to (similar situation to what you experienced). Luckily the officer understood that this was a DMV error and told me to clear it up with them.

    The most frustrating part was then going to the DMV and having them accuse me of losing the paperwork and to "check with my wife" who was probably more responsible than I was. 2 days later the DMV sends me the paperwork that THEY had neglected to mail me earlier and wanted me to fill out.

    $600 dollars worth of fines and 2 days of my life that I'll never get back we finally got it resolved.

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