An Argument for Decals over Hang-Tags

May 6th, 2016 by JBWK

Submitted by: Attorney Katharine J. Westfall

In a 5-2 decision issued May 5, 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court held that a parking pass hanging from a rear-view mirror was sufficient cause for a traffic stop in that it constituted a violation of Va. Code § 46.2-1054, which prohibits operating a vehicle with any object suspended in such a way as to obscure the driver’s view of the highway through the windshield.

A Waverly, Virginia police officer cited a parking pass dangling from a rear-view mirror as his reason for initiating a 2012 traffic stop that ultimately led to a passenger’s arrest on drug possession charges. The passenger sought to have the drug evidence suppressed on the grounds that there was no support for the traffic stop.

On appeal from a ruling in favor of the Commonwealth, a majority of Supreme Court justices considered factors ranging from modern driving habits to the tilt of today’s windshields and found that the hang tag could “probably obstruct the view to the driver’s right to some extent.” However, the two dissenting justices noted that the prohibition under Code § 46.2-1054 does not extend to dangling objects that do not actually obstruct a driver’s view, and there was no record cited that the officer who initiated the stop had believed the tag was interfering with Mason’s line of vision.

The Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Mason v. Commonwealth is merely the latest decision in an ongoing nationwide discussion about the legitimacy of traffic stops and searches, and more broadly, individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights.

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