Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Ithaca DWI Lawyer: College Stickers on Your Car May Give Police Reason to Stop You

Most Cornell University and Ithaca College students are proud of their schools. They like so many these days display their school pride on shirts, hats, and even their cars. I have a license frame for    my daughter's school on my car.

So is having a rear window college decal on your car against the law? 

Can the police legally stop your vehicle for having a sticker on your rear window? 

The Truth About New York Law is that Any Sticker or Decal Obstructing Vision is Illegal

The police can stop your car for any thing obstructing your vision through the rear window. Under VTL (vehicle and traffic law) section 375 number 1 (B)

1. (b) Every such motor vehicle shall be equipped with suitable wipers or other device which shall clear a sufficient area of the windshields to provide reasonable driving vision.  (i) The use or placing of posters or stickers on windshields or rear windows of motor vehicles other than those authorized by the commissioner, is hereby prohibited.

Police Can Also Legally Stop You for Any Cracks in Your Front Windshield 

New York State VTL Section 375
 22. It shall be unlawful to operate a motor vehicle upon the public highways of this state which is equipped with any glass which is so broken, fractured or discolored as to distort visibility.
More Than A Few Ithaca Cars Look Like This!!

Broken Glass on the Windshield Needs to Actually Obstruct Driving Vision

A recent case out of Westchester (People v Polanco) shows how the police can use broken front glass as a PRE-Text to stop a car. A Pre-trext stop means they used a minor violation as a reason to stop the car because they didn't have a legitimate one. Car stops require PC (probable cause).

A police officer stopped defendant on the Hutchinson River Parkway for operating a motor vehicle equipped with (broken) glass that distorts visibility (Vehicle and Traffic Law §375 [22]).

After a post-arrest (search of the car) inventory search of defendant’s vehicle produced a quantity of marihuana, the People charged defendant, in a felony complaint, with criminal possession of marihuana in the second degree (Penal Law §221.25), later superseded by a misdemeanor information charging defendant with criminal possession of marihuana in the fourth degree (Penal Law §221.15) and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree (Penal Law §220.03). Which means they either found another drug or hash oil?

Can they STOP you for this?

The Case of the Broken Windshield and the Found Drugs was Contested

This case was contested at the City court level with a suppression hearing and later was reheard again. Both times the city court judge ruled that the police had probable cause to stop the car based upon the violation of VTL section 375 (broken windshield).

This case was then appealed and the appellate court found that there was NO police testimony on the size of the broken glass, where on the windshield it was broken, or even how it obstructed the driver's vision?  They held that there was NO PC (probable cause) to STOP the car. All evidence must be tossed and the charges (all of them dismissed).

The arresting officer’s testimony, with respect to his justification for stopping defendant’s vehicle, was limited to his observation of “a large crack…starting in the area of the upper left hand corner, [and] extending horizontally across almost the entire length of the windshield.” There was no testimony as to the dimensions of the “large” crack nor in what manner it distorted defendant’s visibility. Given that the crack apparently occupied the zone of the front windshield where certain limitations on visibility are permitted (see Vehicle and Traffic Law §375 [12-a] [b] [1]), testimony as to how the crack may have distorted defendant’s visibility was essential. Related statutes addressing the obstruction of the visibility of operators similarly require proof of actual impairment of visibility (see Vehicle and Traffic Law §375 [30]; compare People v. Singleton, 135 AD3d 1165, 1168 [2016], with People v. O’Hare, 73 AD3d 812, 813 [2010]; see also Vehicle and Traffic Law §375 [2]; People v. Meola, 7 NY2d 391, 395 [1960]; People v. Allen, 89 AD3d at 743).
The Court wanted to see proof of Actual Impairment on Vision. This was an excellent decision and I agree that sometimes the police use these types of violations as a pre-text to pull someone over.

Many Law Enforcement Officers Have Spider-Senses

In the defense of police many do have what I consider to be Spider-senses because many of their hunches are often correct. Some after years of doing police work can smell a drunk or impaired driver a mile away.  But this is not science or legal by any stretch just the truth.

Lawrence Newman is a partner in Newman and Cyr which focuses on DWI and criminal defense in the Fingerlakes region of New York State. contact larry@ithacacdwi.com