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Drive with defective automobile equipment at your own risk

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One would think that those driving with contraband would avoid having defective vehicle equipment — for instance burnt-out headlights and taillights — to reduce their risk of being stopped for traffic offenses. However, repeatedly my clients tell me that the police correctly reported such defects, leading to arrests for carrying drugs (for instance after a drug dog sniff, or after the defendant fails to assert his or her right to silence when the officer asks about contraband therein) and for drunk driving.

Yesterday, Virginia’s intermediate appellate court affirmed a marijuana felony conviction following a stop for a partially illuminated center brake light. Otey v. Va., ___ Va. App. ___ (Dec. 26, 2012), saying that the mere ability to see the brakelight within five hundred feet did not preclude a stop where the officer had reasonable articulable suspicion to believe the light was defective.

The officer who stopped Otey testified that he smelled unburnt marijuana in the car and asked Otey about drugs therein, and that Otey admitted to having marijuana in various places in the car.