In Virginia, a dangling object that does not obstruct one’s view is not a lawful basis for a car stop
Praised be the majority of the Virginia Court of Appeals panel who this week reversed a drug felony conviction, due to a bad car stop that led to the discovery of the drugs. Mason v. Va., ___ Va. App. __ (Aug. 5, 2014). The police stopped the defendant’s vehicle solely because a parking-type tag was hanging from his rearview mirror without obstructing his view. Virginia Code § 46.2-1054 was the only provision of the law that would have been applicable for stopping a car for having an object hanging from the rearview mirror. However, that code section only applies to objects that obstruct the driver’s view.
Why did defendant Mason even have to go through the angst and deprivation of liberty to wait for Constitutional vindication at the appellate level? The trial judge should have ruled the stop of Mr. Mason’s car was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. But wait. There is more, because Mason left open the option for the prosecution to seek to retry Mason on a claim that the search of his car was sufficiently attenuated from the bad stop so as not to have the bad stop prevent the search. Any such attenuation argument should go the way of the toilet. But for the unlawful stop of Mason, the drugs would not have been recovered by the police.