Dangling Air Freshener Justifies Police Stop

Usually, police cannot order a motorist to pull over and stop unless he has a reasonable suspicion, based on fact he can articulate, that a crime or traffic offense is occurring in his presence.  (Common exceptions are an arrest warrant or a police “checkpoint”).

Many people commonly give up their 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by violating the law in small ways.  If an officer wants to randomly pull over a motorist, he can do so if the motorist is driving 5 miles over the speed limit, for example.

A recent case from the Court of Appeals of Virginia adds another “minor infraction” to the list of permissible reasons for pulling over a motorist — air fresheners.

A common amenity at car washes, many motorists hang these pine-shaped, scented slips of cardboard from their rear-view mirrors.  The Court held that a police stop was justified when a motorist had one of these — three inches long and three inches wide — dangling from his mirror.

Virginia Code sec. 46.2-1054 prohibits suspended object that “obstruct” a driver’s view.  The Court held that a three inch air freshener gave an officer “reasonable suspicion” to pull over the motorist.

The case is Richardson v. Commonwealth, 0946-13-3 (March 18, 2014) (Unpublished).

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