Drug charges reinstated for motorist driving hands-free

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Drug charges have been reinstated against a motorist who was stopped by police after driving without his hands on the wheel or his eyes on the road.

The Michigan Court of Appeals said a Circuit Court had erred in ruling police didn’t have legal grounds for pulling over the motorist in 2017. He was charged with two controlled substance offenses.

The appellate court said the stop of Julian Mountain, 22, of Grass Lake was justifiable because Michigan State Police believed he was reading a text message.

After the stop on Interstate 94near Grass Lake, police discovered marijuana in a pouch behind the passenger seat of the Honda and 17 grams of cocaine in a safe in the trunk. In the trunk, police also found a shotgun.

Also found in the safe was $13,370 and other alleged “evidence of narcotics transactions,” according to the appellate court’s ruling. The other evidence wasn’t identified.

His attorney argued in Circuit Court that the evidence shouldn’t be used because police didn’t have probable cause to pull over the motorist.

After he was stopped, Mountain told police he had been looking at Snapchat on his cell phone.

Because it isn’t illegal to look at Snapchat while driving, Mountain’s attorney argued he hadn’t been violating the law and a Circuit Court judge agreed, tossing the case.

But prosecutors argued on appeal that police believed Mountain had been reading a text message, which is illegal.

It was a reasonable mistake for the police to make, the appellate court ruled.

"Although studying Snapchat is different than texting," the trooper's "common sense conclusion" was that Mountain was "violating a traffic law, thereby establishing adequate grounds for a traffic stop," the ruling said.

The court noted that Mountain was so engrossed with his phone that he didn’t notice the state trooper riding beside and observing him for five seconds.

While being watched by the trooper, Mountain used one hand to hold the phone and the other to run through his hair, according to the court’s ruling.

When the trooper asked for Mountain’s license, the motorist said he had two, a real one and another “to get in bars,” according to the ruling.