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Got a question about the law? Some issue been haunting you, and you really want to know the answer? Then you’ve found the right place. Here, real people ask questions and attorney Steven Shelton finds the answers.

 

Remember: this information is generalized and for educational purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice. Before taking any course of action regarding the law, you should contact a lawyer. Each situation is unique, and competent legal advice cannot be given without all of the details, many of which may be confidential.


 

I just bought a pair of fuzzy dice air fresheners to hang from the rearview mirror of my car, and my friend said I couldn’t put them on because it was illegal and I could get a ticket for it. Is this true?

 

Steven Shelton responds:
I have been getting asked this question a lot in the last few months. The short answer, as in all things related to the law, is “It depends.”

 

Here in Michigan, the applicable statute—MCL 257.709(1)(c)—says “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle with . . . . [a] dangling ornament or other suspended object that obstructs the vision of the driver of the vehicle, except as authorized by law.” Violation of this statute is a civil infraction. MCL 257.683(6).

 

So, what really matters here is whether the “dangling ornament” (your “fuzzy dice”) obstructs your view. The answer depends on the specific circumstances, of course: a small pine tree hanging from your rearview mirror is probably not going to be cause for the police to pull you over, but if you hung an 8 x 10 of your mom from the rearview mirror the story might be different.

 

Nonetheless, I have noticed a spike in the number of people asking me about police stops based on nothing more than a small, non-obstructing ornament hanging from the rearview mirror. Most of these cases involved what are referred to as “DWB” (“Driving While Black”) or “DWY” (“Driving While Young”) situations in which the police are using a dangling ornament as a pretext to pull drivers over when the real reason has to do with profiling based on the driver’s race, age, or vehicle type. Some officers apparently have no problem admitting this; an 18-year-old woman reported that a Canton police officer told her (in as many words) that the real reason he stopped her was because she was young and driving an old car. According to him, this made her “look like someone with drugs”. The small crystal ornament hanging from her rearview mirror was just an excuse to pull her over, he said.

 

My suspicion? A police trainer somewhere in the state has started telling officers that any article hanging from the rearview mirror will give them enough reasonable suspicion of a technical violation to pull someone over, regardless of the real reason for the stop.

 

Hopefully, the courts will refuse to buy such excuses. These types of stops plainly constitute an abuse of police power and possibly a violation of civil rights laws. If a police officer claims he pulled you over because of your fuzzy dice, it is probably safe to assume he’s really after something else. In such a situation, keep your cool and remember your rights.

 

So, can police pull you over because you have fuzzy dice? If the dice are small, they probably can’t do so legally (since a rearview mirror ornament that clearly does not obstruct your view is perfectly legal), but that doesn’t mean they won’t use them as a pretext for something else. On the other hand, if the officer is looking for a pretext to pull you over, he’ll be able to find something other than the fuzzy dice to use.

 

So go ahead: hang your fuzzy dice. But leave the 8 x 10 of your mom at home.


Steven Shelton is a Michigan attorney in private practice. Got a question for “Ask a Lawyer”? Ask it here!

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