SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A state lawmaker has filed legislation to prevent abuse of “obstructed views while driving” laws.
State Representative Orlando Ramos is behind this proposal. He testified on H.3411, an Act relative to obstructed views while driving, before the Joint Committee on Transportation on Monday. In Massachusetts, a driver can be pulled over simply for having an air freshener, a necklace, a mask, or any other small item hanging from their rearview mirror.
Police can conduct a traffic stop if an item hanging from the rearview mirror appears to obstruct a driver’s operation of the vehicle. In 2005, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether air fresheners impede the “proper operation of the vehicle” pursuant to section 13. In Commonwealth v. Brazeau, the Appeals Court opined that “[t]he mere existence of two or three small items hanging from a rearview mirror does not suffice, we think, to constitute a violation of G.L. c. 90, § 13, or warrant police investigation”.
“This is not how this law was intended to be enforced,” said Representative Orlando Ramos. “Despite the Court of Appeals decision in 2005, we still continue to see people getting pulled over for this reason.” Ramos says it would make it clear by amending the law by inserting, “the existence of 1 or more small items hanging from the rearview mirror of a motor vehicle in operation shall not in itself constitute a violation of this section.”
Kim Potter, a white Minnesota police officer, killed Daunte Wright, who was Black, during a traffic stop in April 2021. Wright was pulled over for having expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Officers discovered he had a warrant for a misdemeanor weapons possession charge and he was shot during a struggle as officers tried to arrest him.
Civil rights advocates say laws against hanging objects from rearview mirrors have been used as a pretext for stopping Black motorists.
Ramos cited the deadly shooting of Wright, which is similar to the challenges to the rearview mirror laws in multiple cases, and the over-policing of communities of color, are reasons for filing the bill.
Additional court proceedings of note provided in a news release from the office of Rep. Orlando Ramos:
United States v. Murillo-Figueroa: (Iowa 2012) – finding stop unreasonable because cluster of four or five tree-shaped air fresheners 3-4″ in length hanging from rearview mirrors “did not prevent a ‘clear vision’ through any of the vehicle’s windows”.
People v. Arias: (Colo. 2007) – finding evidence properly suppressed where officer “failed to articulate a reasonable basis to believe the air fresheners obstructed the driver’s vision”.
State v. Cyrus: (Conn. 2010) – finding evidence properly suppressed because officer had no objectively reasonable belief that defendant’s 1″ by 1 ¾” wooden cross/air freshener and 1/8″ by 8 ½” beaded chain hanging from rearview mirror were “distracting or obstructive”.
People v. Mott: (Ill. App. Ct. 2009) – finding evidence properly suppressed where officer never testified that leaf-shaped air freshener of typical size hanging from rearview mirror materially obstructed defendant’s vision.
People v. Johnson: (Ill. App. Ct. 2008) – finding evidence properly suppressed because “the officer’s belief, after a fleeting view in the dark,” that “life-size” cherry-shaped air freshener hanging from rearview mirror constituted “a material obstruction was not justifiable”.
People v. Cole: (Ill. App. Ct. 2007) – finding no reasonable suspicion to make stop because strand of opaque beads 4″ long and ¼” in diameter hanging from rearview mirror was not “material obstruction”.
State v. Houghton: 2014 WI App 71, ¶¶ 2-3, 10, 848 N.W.2d 904 (per curiam) (unpub.) – finding “standard-size, pine-tree-shaped air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror” insufficient to support stop.
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