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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tent vs jail cell - your call

I just renewed my license tabs, and noticed that if my plate was 10 years or older, it had to be replaced to ensure that it was legible.  MCL 257.225(2) states that a registration plate shall be “in a place and position that is clearly visible…maintained free from foreign materials that obscure or partially obscure registration information and in a clearly legible condition.” 

The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that we Michiganders should pay heed to with the summer camping season coming up – before you hook up your camper to the back of your truck this summer, be certain that the trailer hitch doesn’t obscure the full view of the license plate.  If it does, or if any other object obstructs the visibility of your plate, the police can pull you over for this offense alone.  And if you’re like Charles Dunbar, it might lead to worse consequences.

Back in 2012, Mr. Dunbar was cruising around Muskegon County in his Ford Ranger, which had a towing ball attached to the bumper.  The police were also cruising around, and decided to run his license plate, for no other particular reason than that’s what police do.  Because the towing ball was in the way, they punched in the wrong plate number, which made it look like Dunbar was driving the wrong car.  We all know what happened next – Dunbar was pulled over.

Unfortunately for him, the cops noticed the undeniable odor of marijuana coming from his vehicle, and you can probably guess what happened next – the search led to more exciting finds – cocaine and a gun!

Naturally, Dunbar wanted this evidence suppressed, arguing that the cops had no legal basis to pull him over in the first place.  The trial court disagreed, noting that Dunbar had violated the statute since his plate was obstructed by the towing ball.  The Michigan Court of Appeals sided with Dunbar, however, and reversed the lower court’s decision.

On March 29, 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the trial court was indeed correct, and Dunbar was once again out of luck.  This wasn’t exactly his first offense either, having been charged as a fourth time habitual offender.

Make sure to add checking your license plate to your camping to do list - we can all agree that living in a tent is better than a jail cell.