Attorneys and activists across Virginia battled in courts for years against a law that gave the law enforcement officials the authority to pull over vehicles because of disabled parking placards or fuzzy dice dangling from the rear view mirrors. The good news is that the law has now been amended.
What is the ‘Object Dangling in the Windshield’ Law?
Virginia Code § 46.2-1054 refers to the suspension of objects or alteration of vehicle so as to obstruct driver’s view or popularly known as the “dangling objects” law. The statute gives police officers the right to pull over any vehicle that has a dangling object from the rear view mirror or on the windshield. The new amendment to this law prevents law officers from stopping a car specifically for objects from the windshield even if it obstructs the driver’s view.
Challenges to the Archaic Law
Several defendants challenged the law in court to different levels of success. A major case in this bid was the 2016 case, Mason v. Commonwealth. In general, lawyers argued that the rear view mirror law was unconstitutional because:
- Determining whether an object obstructs the road view or not depends on the officer’s discretion or interpretation
- The law can potentially give rise to discrimination if the object in question is of ethnic or religious value
- The rear-view law was routinely used by police officers to pull someone over for offenses they may not have probable cause for
This was seen when Tony Jarrett was pulled over for a parking pass hanging from the rear-view mirror. Jarett wasn’t violating any laws and the officer that pulled him over did so just because of the parking pass. However, the officer soon found that Loren Mason, Jarret’s passenger, was in possession of ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana, and a huge wad of cash.
Mason was arrested on multiple felony charges but, he took the case all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court. His argument was that the traffic stop was unconstitutional and a driver should not be stopped just because something is hanging from the rear-view mirror. The Virginia Supreme Court ordered Mason’s conviction to stand by ruling in favor of the Commonwealth
Amendment to Virginia Code § 46.2-1054
Several deadly traffic stops were captured through dashcam footage and cell phones in 2020. This compelled the commonwealth to finally change its take on Virginia Code § 46.2-1054. Special legislative session in November 2020 passed sweeping reform in case of traffic encounters. Several vehicle equipment violations were reduced to secondary offenses from primary offenses from March 1, 2021.
Police are not allowed to stop motor vehicles for objects dangling from the mirror. The General Assembly went further by ensuring that enactment of Va. Code 46.2-1054(b) does not give police officers the authority to admit incriminating evidence in any future trial as part of a stop. For instance, if a police officer stops anyone on the basis of Virginia Code § 46.2-1054 and they find incriminating evidence, such as firearms or illicit drugs, then this evidence will be rendered inadmissible in court.
The General Assembly passed these amendments to prevent and discourage the use of pretextual policing. This is the practice of stopping vehicles for conducting investigations that are not related to the basis for the stop. However, it is important to understand that Virginia Code § 46.2-1054 has not been abolished.
Violating the Dangling Objects Law
Police officers can still write tickets for objects dangling from the mirror. However, this is only when you are pulled over for another lawful reason. You should be careful about illegal lane changes and running a traffic light if you have your favorite scented tree dangling from the rear view mirror.
The officer that pulls you over can write a ticket for having the “view obstructed because of suspended objects.” This ticket is usually accompanied by a $30 fine and a $51 processing fee. You should know that while the new restrictions don’t give officers to use any incriminating findings as evidence in court, they can always check whether your license or registration is current or not.
They are still allowed to write a ticket if your inspection is not up to date or the license is suspended. In general, police officers don’t have the right to pull you over because you have an object suspended from the windshield. However, they can pull you over for another legal reason and write a ticket if you have a dangling object obstructing your rear view.
Speak with a Virginia Car Accident Attorney Today
These new amendments to the statute can have implications if you are involved in a car accident that resulted in your injuries because of another’s negligence. The experienced car accident attorneys at the law firm of Shapiro, Appleton, Washburn & Sharp can help you navigate these complicates areas of law and pursue your right to damages for your injuries and losses. Schedule a free consultation today by calling at (833) 997-1774 or visit our contact us page.