Court of Appeals Reverses Lower Court
In People v. Dunbar, during a police traffic stop, some contraband was found. In turn, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion. However, the Court of Appeals granted the defendant’s application for leave for appeal. Since the Court found no traffic violation, it reversed the lower court’s ruling. This case originated in Muskegon Circuit Court. The opinion was released for publication on September 9, 2014.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This extends to traffic stops; in other words, they cannot be unreasonable. In this case, the prosecution admitted the police officers did not believe the defendant was engaged in criminal activity at the time of the stop. The officers also testified that the defendant was not violating any traffic laws either.
Furthermore, they stated the sole basis of the stop was a violation of MCL 257.225(2), which indicates in part that: “(a vehicle’s license) plate shall be maintained free from foreign materials that obscure or partially obscure the registration information and in a clearly legible condition.”
Again, the defendant was driving safely and following the law. The true basis of the stop was that the police officers had difficulty reading one of the digits on the defendant’s license plate due to the presence of a trailer towing ball connected to the rear bumper.
However, the Court found the presence of a towing ball is not a violation of the statute in question. The statute makes no reference to towing balls, trailer hitches, or other common towing equipment that could partially block an otherwise legible license plate. In addition, the Court noted that the defendant’s plate was in basically pristine condition as well.
In conclusion, the Court reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress the evidence gained from the traffic stop and vehicle search that violated the Fourth Amendment.