A Michigan state Senate committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to advance legislation that would legalize the hanging of fuzzy dice and air fresheners from rearview mirrors. State Senator Ron Jelinek (R-Three Oaks) introduced Senate Bill 276 to repeal the statute that allows police to pull over motorists using objects dangling from a mirror as a pretext. Existing law makes driving with a "dangling ornament" punishable by a $100 fine and up to ninety days imprisonment.
The law became controversial after the January 13, 2006 arrest of Lonnie Ray Davis outside Detroit. Westland Police Officer Pat Griffin pulled over Davis for the crime of driving with a "Tweety Bird" air-freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Griffin testified that he had no other justification for the traffic stop. After searching Davis's vehicle, Griffin found drugs, a gun and a bottle of Hennessy cognac. Davis appealed his conviction before a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that in December found the Michigan law unconstitutionally vague because it did not define what kind of dangling objects might "obscure" a driver's vision.
"Many vehicles on the road today have something hanging from the rearview mirror, whether it be an air freshener, a parking pass, fuzzy dice, or a rosary," Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr. wrote. "And many organizations, both public and private, either encourage or require their use. Because of this, many vehicles on the road may violate the obstruction law, but the statute itself provides no guidance either to motorists or police as to which ones do. It is simply up to the officer on the street to decide. We believe that the Constitution requires more of Michigan's legislature."
Although the court did not let Davis off the hook for cocaine possession, it withdrew its decision two weeks later. In April, the same three-judge panel issued a new decision that no longer mentioned the unconstitutional vagueness of the statute.
"We cannot accept Davis's argument that police lacked probable cause to stop him based upon the Tweety Bird," Martin wrote in the revised opinion. "The law's language is unqualified: an obstruction of any size for any amount of time falls within it. Consequently, the mere sight of the dangling Tweety Bird supplied the 'quantum of individualized suspicion' sufficient to establish probable cause to believe that Davis was violating [the law]."
Under the amended text of SB 276, it would only be a crime to drive with obstructed vision and the reference to dangling ornaments would be deleted. The measure now moves to the full Senate for consideration. A copy of the revised Sixth Circuit opinion is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: US v. Davis (US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, 4/30/2009)