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Marked versus Unmarked Police Cars: When Does It Matter?

Let's not pretend that they do not exist. Let's not pretend that we don't see them sitting on the side of the road or moving in-and-out of traffic on the highway. And let's not pretend that we don't slow down when we see an Impala, Crown Victoria, Charger, or Mustang (or that white INDOT truck) with tinted windows. The use of unmarked cars by law enforcement is not a recent development, but some individuals do not recognize that there are certain limitations placed upon their use.

Generally, the police are free to utilize unmarked cars as they see fit. However, Indiana law provides that a law enforcement officer may not arrest an individual (or issue a traffic citation) to a person for a violation of an Indiana law (or a city ordinance) concerning the use of a motor vehicle unless the officer is either (1) wearing a distinctive uniform and a badge of authority, or (2) operating a clearly marked police vehicle. See Indiana Code 9-30-2-2. Moreover, the officer and/or his vehicle must "clearly show the officer or the officer's vehicle to casual observations to be an officer or a police vehicle." Indiana law allows for no ambiguity nor subtly identified officers or police cars.

There can be little doubt that this law was designed for the safety of the motoring public. Certainly, individuals who are stopped by a police officer for a traffic offense should be able to clearly see the officer's marked car – or identify the officer by a conspicuous uniform. If you've been stopped by a law enforcement officer for a traffic matter, contact the attorneys at Keffer Barnhart LLP today at (317) 857-0160 or at 1-800-NOT GUILTY.