MI Supreme Court: Traffic stop for obscured plates OK

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MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Muskegon County man says his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when police pulled him over because a trailer hitch was blocking part of his license plate and he ended up facing criminal charges.

Charles Dunbar says he wasn’t breaking any laws as he drove down a street in Muskegon Heights in October 2012. But he claims police did by unlawfully pulling him over.

“It seemed like harassment. ‘We didn’t have anything else to do. Hey, it was late; black guy driving; you know, a rough neighborhood,'” Dunbar said.

Court documents show police smelled burned marijuana and searched Dunbar ‘s car. They found pot, cocaine and a concealed weapon. As a result, Dunbar was charged with drug possession and carrying a concealed weapon.

He took his case to circuit court, arguing the evidence found in the truck should be suppressed on the basis that police unlawfully pulled him over and illegally seized it.

He said there must be many vehicles in the state with plates obscured by hitches — but not everyone driving such a vehicle gets pulled over.

A circuit court judge ruled in favor of the police. Dunbar and his attorney appealed and won. Prosecutors appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which ultimately sided with the police.

“Kind of looked like what we call pretextual traffic stop. I mean, he was arrested for what was actually a violation, but it was so minimal that most people aren’t stopped for that,” David Kaczor, a federal public defender, explained.

He said he wasn’t surprised by the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

“You can’t have your license plate blocked. You have to have it so it can be seen. So people can be stopped for a violation. My experience tells me that the police were probably looking for that car,” Kaczor said.

But he said drivers don’t typically get pulled over for such a minor infraction.

That’s why Dunbar isn’t giving up. He and his attorney are meeting Wednesday to discuss whether they want to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure were violated.

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