This occurred in California.
Can the police give you a ticket for $1,200 for a first time violation with no registration or insurance paperwork in the vehicle? The vehicle was registered and had insurance. Does it matter if the car is not yours?
Yes, the police can give you a ticket for not having insurance/registration in the vehicle, even if they know it is registered/insured.
The requirement is not just that you must have it, but you must carry proof of it in the vehicle.
California Law (CVC §16058) requires that insurance companies electronically report insurance information to the DMV, which the officer has access to and can verify insurance.
Financial responsibility (commonly known as insurance) is required on all vehicles operated or parked on California roadways. You must carry evidence of financial responsibility in your vehicle at all times and it must be provided as specified below when:
- Requested by law enforcement.
- Renewing vehicle registration.
- The vehicle is involved in a traffic collision.
The reason it must be in your vehicle is that when you are involved in a collision, you have to be able to provide that to the other party.
And yes, you can receive the citation even if the vehicle is not yours. It is your responsibility as a driver to abide by the laws and verify that the vehicle is legal to drive.
California Vehicle Code (CVC) §4000(a)(1) requires registration:
A person shall not drive, move, or leave standing upon a highway, or in an offstreet public parking facility, any motor vehicle, trailer, semitrailer, pole or pipe dolly, or logging dolly, unless it is registered and the appropriate fees have been paid under this code or registered under the permanent trailer identification program, except that an off-highway motor vehicle which displays an identification plate or device issued by the department pursuant to Section 38010 may be driven, moved, or left standing in an offstreet public parking facility without being registered or paying registration fees.
I'm not advocating that you should just "suck it up and pay" this ticket. I would certainly bring proof of registration/insurance at the time of the ticket to your court date and provide that you are not the registered owner of the vehicle (you don't say, but I assume you were borrowing a friends vehicle). The court should look at that evidence and issue a warning or dismiss the ticket.