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Virginia Court Upholds Air Freshener Stop
Virginia Court of Appeals allows police to stop and search cars for having air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror.

Air freshener photo by Pal Berge
Virginia police can stop and search any car with an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror under a state Court of Appeals ruling handed down yesterday. A three-judge panel decided that it makes no difference whether Virginia's statute banning objects hanging from the mirror is constitutional. The court only last year felt otherwise, deciding in Mason v. Virginia that a three inch by five inch parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror was not an "obstruction" under this law (view ruling).

On March 7, 2014, Frederick County Sheriff's Office deputies were looking for an excuse to pull over William Edward Freeman Jr. They went with "suspicion of having objects hanging from his rearview mirror" after noticing Freeman had two or three air fresheners.

The stop lead to the discovery of drugs, but Freeman argued that this evidence should be suppressed because Virginia's obstructed windshield statute is unconstitutionally vague, offering no guidance to motorists as to what size object might or might not be acceptable. The court punted on that issue.

"Rather than engage in an unnecessary analysis of the constitutionality of Code Section 46.2-1054, we will limit our decision to the issue before us: whether the trial court should have suppressed the evidence," Judge William G. Petty ruled. "We conclude that irrespective of the statute's validity, based on the state of the law at the time of the stop, the trial court was correct in refusing to suppress the evidence."

Last year in Heien v. North Carolina, the US Supreme Court said police could stop and search vehicles based on a mistaken understanding of the law (view case). Since the stop of Freeman would be valid if the officers were wrong about the law, the three-judge panel reasoned the evidence would not be suppressed if the law were deemed invalid.

Ultimately, Freeman's argument fell flat as the judges found the photographs suggesting Freeman's air fresheners took up too much space.

"In comparing the photographs of the clump of air fresheners hanging from Freeman's rearview mirror with the photograph of the parking pass included in our opinion in Mason, we have no hesitation in concluding that the officer had an objectively reasonable suspicion that the objects obstructed Freeman's vision of the highway," Judge Petty concluded.

A copy of the decision is available in a 55k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Freeman v. Virginia (Court of Appeals, State of Virginia, 11/17/2015)

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