Today a new law goes into effect that will protect drivers from an unfair traffic ticket that was on the books for decades.
The Old Law
Michigan law requires a car’s license plate to be clearly visible. A police officer could pull you over and write a ticket where your license plate is even partially unreadable. MCL 257.225(2).
This means a police officer could pull over a driver whenever a car has some sort of attachment, such as a hitch, bike rack, or towing-balls for tow trucks that blocks the license plate.
The New Law
A license plate must still be clearly visible, but the updated law provides protections for drivers.
The updated law states that drivers do not break the law where the license plate is blocked by the attachment to the rear of a vehicle of a tow ball, bicycle rack, removable hitch, or any other device designed to carry an object on the rear of a vehicle, including the object being carried. MCL 257.225(2) Amended.
No longer can a police officer use the excuse that a car attachment blocking the license plate is cause to pull someone over and giving them a ticket.
Real Life Consequences
The Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Dunbar deals with this very issue. Two years ago, the Court upheld the conviction of a man stopped because a towing-ball blocked a letter of his license plate. The police officers making the stop conceded Dunbar did nothing suspicious. Dunbar’s car was search, revealing marijuana, cocaine, and a firearm.
Dunbar appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the stop was unlawful. The law as it was written essentially allowed a police officer to pull over most tow trucks. Many of these trucks often have some kind of attachment that could block the license plate. The Court ruled against him, saying the law requires a license plate to be clearly visible, no matter how unfair it might for such a broad civil infraction to be in effect. Read our full article on the case of People v. Dunbar here.
A police officer needs a reason to pull someone over. A police officer can pull over a motorist for any witnessed civil infraction. This is very broad, as many of us commit civil infractions without even realizing it.
This law before updated basically allowed anyone to be pulled over and ticketed for just having a bike rack or for towing a hitch. This meant many people were unwittingly breaking the law.
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Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Washtenaw County.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.