In '0INK' License Plate Case, Ind. Judge Orders New Rules

By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 15, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) has lost a court battle over denying an "0INK" license plate, but the state may still choose to appeal.

Greenfield, Indiana, police Officer Rodney Vawter had his "0INK" vanity plate revoked when the BMV determined it was "offensive or misleading." But a judge ruled last week that the BMV was biased and inconsistent with applying its own standards, reports The Associated Press.

So what's the big deal with "0INK"?

'Offensive' and 'Misleading'

Officer Vawter and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2013, claiming that his "0INK" vanity plate was "an ironic statement of pride in his profession." Last Wednesday, Marion Superior Court Judge James Osborn sided with Vawter against the BMV, noting that its process of approving and denying license plates was not only "arbitrary" and "unexplainable" but also unconstitutional, reports The Indianapolis Star.

Indiana had argued that it had authority to deny vanity plates like Vawter's based on the state's broadly worded license plate law. This law allowed the BMV to refuse letter and number combinations which were offensive to good taste and decency or misleading.

Despite these guidelines, the Indiana BMV was wildly inconsistent with which vanity plates were approved or denied. According to the Star, the BMV:

  • Denied "SXY" but approved "BIGGSXY";
  • Denied "PAKI" but approved "GRINGO";
  • Denied "CNCR SUX" but approved "WNTR SUX"; and
  • Denied "HATER" but approved "HATERS."

The system was found to be unconstitutionally random, much like the "COPSLIE" license plate case in New Hampshire.

Bringing 'SXY' (and '0INK') Back

Perhaps as a way to squelch complaints about these inconsistencies, the BMV halted its vanity plate program shortly after Vawter filed his suit. As part of his ruling, Judge Osborn ordered the Indiana BMV to:

  • Reinstate the personalized license plate program;
  • Allow Vawter his "0INK" plate ... if he reapplies for it;
  • Establish proper rules for reviewing plate requests; and
  • Inform applicants whose personalized plates had been denied or revoked how to reapply.

However, the AP reports that the BMV may not have to hand over "0INK" just yet. The state has 30 days from Judge Osborn's ruling to appeal the case, and the BMV is still not offering vanity plates on its website.

In the meantime, Indiana can still prohibit obscenity and racism on license plates, but "0INK"ers like Vawter should be able to display their pride.

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