It does not take much for a police officer to pull a car over in Michigan. Even though the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people from unreasonable searches and seizures, people still get pulled over with little justification.
Part of the reason is that the law uses words such as “unreasonable”, which gets watered down over time in favor of law enforcement. When a stop is challenged in Court, the Judge is supposed to examine the totality of the circumstances in making a decision, according to Ohio v. Robinette, 519 US 33; 117 S Ct 417 (1996). The officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle or an occupant of the vehicle was in violation of the law. Terry v. Ohio, 392 US 1; 88 S Ct 1868 (1968); People v. Williams, 236 Mich App 610 (1999).
Included in the notion of stopping someone based upon a violation of the law are things such as equipment violations. Under the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code an officer may stop and inspect a motor vehicle for an equipment violation. Michigan Compiled Law 257.715(1) states that equipment on motor vehicles must be maintained, and a uniformed police officer is able to stop a car and inspect the vehicle and issue traffic tickets for defects as long as he or she has reasonable grounds to do so. Equipment violations do not even have to be a safety violation or effect the performance of the car. For example, if the light bulb that lights up the license plate is burned out, which is a violation of Michigan Compiled Law 257.686(2), this is enough to allow a stop.
In Michigan, a police officer has the ability to stop and detain the driver when the officer witnesses a civil infraction violation. People v. Rizzo, 243 Mich App 151 (2000). Once a stop occurs, it can be bad news for the driver or passengers. If the officer smells marijuana, or sees what the officer suspects to be contraband, or if someone in the car has a warrant for their arrest all can set off a further investigation and possibly an arrest. A police officer is allowed to briefly detain people if he or she has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person is engaging in criminal activity. People v. LoCicero, 453 Mich 496 (1996). A police officer running a license plate and finding out the registered owner has a warrant is a basis to make a stop.
How can a driver avoid being harassed by the police?
- If there is any type of defective equipment on the car, have it repaired immediately. If the windshield is cracked, replace it. If the taillight doesn’t work, change the light bulb right away. Do not have a reason to be stopped.
- Obey the traffic laws. Don’t speed or make improper turns, especially if you do not have a valid license (I do not advocate driving without a license), or you have contraband in the vehicle, or if you had a few alcoholic beverages, or you have an active bench warrant.
- Better yet, if you don’t have a valid license or if you had a few drinks, let someone else drive.
- Pay attention while you drive. Do not text and drive, eat and drive, or otherwise be distracted.
- If you have anything hanging from your rear view mirror, like beads or air fresheners, remove them. If it snowed outside, brush off all the windows from snow before you drive. Any of this could, to a police officer, constitute having your vision obstructed while driving.
- Do not loiter, or park in front or in back of closed businesses. An officer may approach because he thinks something suspicious is happening or that a break in may occur. A police officer can approach someone parked in a public area without any real justification.
- Do not park in a closed park, a handicapped parking space, or in some other area that your car is not supposed to be. This can bring unwanted attention to you.
- If you are pulled over, be calm and polite.
- If you are pulled over, make sure you have your license, registration, and proof of insurance for the officer.
- If you are pulled over, although you are required to be truthful (lying to the police is a crime), you do not need to tell on yourself. You have a 5th Amendment privilege not to incriminate yourself.
- Clean up any existing warrants, and pay off any existing tickets, so there is not a further basis to detain you. You can retain Attorney Daniel Hilf to help you with outstanding warrants.
- Undocumented aliens often have troubles because they often are not allowed to obtain licenses. They should seek help from an experienced Immigration lawyer, such as Attorney Sufen Hilf to address any ICE or immigration related issues if possible.
There is no question that people are stopped by police on occasion due to their race, or that they may look like an illegal alien, or stopped based on a presumed religion. Obviously a police officer cannot claim these as the reason for the stop and will have to go with the justifications listed earlier in this blog. If these justifications can be eliminated, it may reduce your potential for harassment.
What if the police officer lied and there was no justification for the stop? The defense lawyer can attempt to get video recordings from the officer’s patrol car to challenge the account. The defense lawyer can cross examine the officer and challenge his statements and testimony at an evidentiary hearing and/or trial. A lawyer may not be able undo all the damage, such as if the driver did not have status and went into ICE custody based on a bad stop, or if the driver had a warrant at the time of the bad stop and ended up in custody for that warrant.
If you are stopped for no reason and given a ticket or are charged with a crime, you will need an experienced lawyer’s help. If an officer is not truthful about the reason you were stopped, you need an experienced lawyer’s help. Contact Hilf & HIlf, PLC today for any criminal defense, traffic ticket, or immigration issues.