A Sept. 10 Michigan appeals court ruling may change what law enforcement officers are allowed to do when stopping a person for a traffic violation and then searching their vehicle for illegal substances. The case began in 2012 in Muskegon Heights when deputies pulled a man over because a tow ball on the back of his pickup truck was partially blocking the truck's license plate.
After deputies smelled marijuana, they searched the pickup and allegedly found drugs and a gun. The driver was subsequently charged with possession of marijuana and other substances. The man's attorney argued that his client had a right to have a tow ball on the back of his truck with an otherwise readable plate. He also argued that his client's constitutional rights were violated when deputies performed an illegal search.
The appeals court agreed and said that the law does not prohibit a tow ball to partially block the view of a license plate. Therefore, the stop was not legal according to Michigan law, and the officers did not have probable cause to perform a search. One judge dissented, saying that a law enforcement officer should not have to weave through traffic in order to get a full view of a license plate.
Drug charges in Michigan can be particularly serious due to the penalties often handed out. A person convicted of a drug charge may have to spend time in jail in addition to paying a fine. A conviction goes on a person's record and could have negative consequences in the future. Anyone facing drug charges may want to discuss their case with an attorney who has experience in defending such cases.
Source: Daily Journal , "Court throws out drug evidence", Ed White, September 11, 2014