Mich. high court OKs traffic stops for obscured plates

Associated Press

Lansing — The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that police can pull over motorists whose license plates are obstructed by an object such as a bike rack or trailer hitch.

The unanimous opinion filed Tuesday concluded the Michigan Vehicle Code requires motorists to attach their plates in a place where they can be seen without obstruction.

The high court overturned a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that suppressed evidence seized from a truck that was pulled over because the license plate was obstructed by a towing ball and police couldn’t read all of it. The court reinstated evidence in the felony gun and drug case against Charles Almando-Maurice Dunbar.

In October 2012, Muskegon County sheriff’s deputies pulled over Dunbar and said they smelled marijuana, leading to a search in which they found drugs and a gun. As a result of the search, Dunbar was charged with possession of between 50 and 450 grams of cocaine, carrying a concealed weapon, second-offense marijuana possession and felony firearm, as a fourth-time habitual offender.

In the initial court case, defense attorney Michael L. Oakes filed a motion to suppress the evidence deputies seized, arguing the traffic stop violated Dunbar’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Muskegon County 14th Circuit Judge Timothy G. Hicks dismissed the attorney’s motion. But the Michigan Court of Appeals in September 2014 overturned the lower court’s ruling.

The new ruling by the state Supreme Court reinstates the original ruling by Hicks, so the evidence against Dunbar can be used in the case.

The justices restricted attorneys’ arguments to the issue of whether Dunbar’s license plate violated the state traffic law. They didn’t consider Oakes’ argument that police pulled over Dunbar because he’s black or the prosecutor’s argument that excluding the evidence was necessary to deter police misconduct.

Dunbar and his attorney plan to meet Wednesday to discuss whether they want to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.