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Chapter 90 Enforcer
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Commonwealth v. Brazeau
Appeals Court
July 20, 2005

A police officer is not justified in stopping a car solely because he observes items hanging from the rearview mirror.
A police officer saw the defendant driving down the road and observed one or more small objects hanging from the defendant's rearview mirror. The officer stopped the defendant because he determined the driver "could not see the road properly" and that this "might have affected her ability to drive safely," (thereby constituting a civil motor vehicle infraction under c. 90, §13.) The stop ultimately led to the defendant's arrest for operating under the influence of liquor. The court found that the officer did not have sufficient reasonable suspicion to stop the car.
The objects the officer observed turned out to be two small wooden hearts and a prism. The court held that the "mere existence of two or three small items hanging from a rearview mirror does not suffice to constitute a violation … or warrant police investigation." More specifically, the court found that the officer never testified that it was the reflective quality of the prism that caught his attention and caused him to stop the vehicle. "Had the officer in fact testified to his reliance upon objectively verifiable qualities of the hanging items that made them distracting or that interfered with the driver's view, a different case may have been presented." The court noted there was no testimony indicating the items were swinging back in forth in front of the driver's face, that the officer saw the driver peering around the objects, or that the driver was weaving in any fashion. Without more, the officer did not have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting a traffic violation.
 

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Chapter 90 Enforcer
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Exactly. Thats why I posted it. Like the decision stated: "Had the officer in fact testified to his reliance upon objectively verifiable qualities of the hanging items that made them distracting or that interfered with the driver's view, a different case may have been presented." As we all know, It's all a matter of articulation.
 

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I recall our instructor in the Academy stressing that Report Writing was MOST important to make a case stick or have it thrown out!

Speaking as a "common citizen":

- The first time I was ever stopped was by the old RMV for "obstructed view" when I had a "Dino Dinosaur" (anyone old enough to remember "Bay State Gas" back in the 1960s when they gave away soap bars and tiny plastic dinosaurs?) that was mounted ON TOP of my rear view mirror. There was no point in arguing with the Inspector, but it really only obscured my view of approaching aircraft! :)

- I always wondered (well, not really ;) ) about the legal exception for "government issued" stickers/hang tags. Our town issues town parking permits quarterly that are supposed to hang from the mirror (~3"x6") and I found them to be a terrible distraction while driving (swinging back and forth and much too big)! I finally decided to tape them to the windshield behind the rear view mirror, so they are not in my field of view. This dumb tag is legal ONLY because it is issued by a government agency? <DOH>

To make it clear, I am NOT in favor of things that obstruct ones view while driving. If the gov't really wanted to ensure that nothing obstructs our view (i.e. safety issue), the Inspection Sticker would be mounted "top, center" behind the rear view mirror (like NH, IIRC). Our Inspection sticker actually CAN obstruct our view of a small child crossing the street from the right! I am not in favor of laws/enforcement that allows gov't to violate safety only because they can yet enforce it if a private citizen were to do the same thing. Common sense about safety should rule.
 

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Ahh, the importance of report writing. I love these cases to be able to print and show to co-workers who Monday morning quarterback with the advice of "keep it short" or "you write too much" and then get ripped apart on the stand because of all the holes in their report and lack of details. Its the "details" of who, what, where, when and why along with the elements that fill the gaping holes for the attorney to jump through.

Bottom line is with an OUI report there is no way (in my opinion) to write a good, complete, accurate, report with details of what occurred in less than two to three pages. With domestics, assaults, larceny's, 94c etc... it is a little more cut and dry to establishing the elements and probable cause on paper. The person either hit or abused someone, stole something, had in their possession, etc...

I understand that "keep it short" theory to report writing might be different with veteran officers who were trained to write as little as possible. New officers are trained in the SFST's which at the minimum if done correctly there are three tests and does not include any others that might be done. Add in good descriptive paragraph(s) of the violations and events during the stop, the tests themselves, any good comments (which most OUI stops have), their demeanor and how they follow directions at all steps of the way and what occurred during booking.

I certainly understand the time factor and time off the road with departments that have a few people working on a shift and having to leave the booking or report for another serious call. Being a professional extends beyond the shift to the courts and the report is the start of that process. Can't forget that some DA's need a little push about what needs to come up from the report, I have seen some miss very obvious details in their arguments and almost loose simple motions because of it.

Here is the link to the full text of the case:

http://www.socialaw.com/slip.htm?cid=15365&sid=119
 

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Wolfman said:
That aside, I've seen some pretty bizarre shit hanging off of mirrors. Underwear, paper plates, one guy had a coffee mug swinging around. Like Len said, common sense.
I am amazed what people have in plain view in their vehicles and I won't even get into searching vehicles. Anyone who has worked the road before I am sure can attest and has had a few good chuckles.

Where do these people come from and what in God's name are any of those items hanging from a rearview mirror for??? Did the guy score the night before? Maybe just went to a drive-through and could not eat the McDonalds out of the bag? Cup holders were not an option? WTF
 

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frapmpd24 said:
I am amazed what people have in plain view in their vehicles and I won't even get into searching vehicles. Anyone who has worked the road before I am sure can attest and has had a few good chuckles.

Where do these people come from and what in God's name are any of those items hanging from a rearview mirror for??? Did the guy score the night before? Maybe just went to a drive-through and could not eat the McDonalds out of the bag? Cup holders were not an option? WTF
Or the Mall Security guard with his handcuffs dangling from the mirror?
 

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the law in Mass. has nothing to do with items dangling from a mirror. It has to do with "Impeded Operation". The court did cite a Minnesota law that specifically prohibits hanging items from a rear view mirror.

In short, absent such law, we must show that the operator's operation was impeded.
I for one am an avid fisherman. But the court's are well aware that we do go on fishing expeditions that can turn "something hanging from a mirror into an OUI". Whatever happened to weaving, and driving erratically to make an OUI arrest?:shifty:
 
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