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CRIMINAL LAW 9: Traffic stop reasonable for illegally tinted driver’s window.

In this case, while on patrol, Michigan State Police Trooper observed defendant’s vehicle and believed that it may have had illegally tinted driver’s side windows. Trooper testified that he also could hear the vehicle’s exhaust system through his closed vehicle window, and noticed that the exhaust system was louder when the car accelerated, leading Trooper to believe that the exhaust system may have been defective. He decided to pull the vehicle over because he believed that the vehicle’s front-window tint and loud exhaust system were possible traffic violations.

Trooper indicated that, after he pulled the vehicle over, he became suspicious that defendant was intoxicated. Defendant refused field sobriety tests, and Trooper eventually transported defendant to the hospital for a blood alcohol test.

Defendant’s blood alcohol count was tested at .192 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, far in excess of the BAC required for an OUIL conviction. Another officer found an open and partially-consumed bottle of whiskey in defendant’s vehicle before its impoundment.

Defendant moved to suppress evidence gathered from Trooper’s stop, and the subsequent search, of his vehicle, arguing that when Trooper stopped defendant’s vehicle, he lacked a reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed. Defendant testified and admitted that his driver’s license was suspended; however, he stated that after he had pulled over in response to Trooper’s lights and siren, he exited the car, opened the bottle of whiskey, and drank half of it. Defendant thus denied being guilty of either OUIL or possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Trooper reported that he had observed that defendant’s front driver’s side window was tinted, in possible violation of traffic ordinances, when defendant first drove by him and then, following the stop, when he approached while defendant was sitting in the vehicle. Trooper also noted that, when he was following defendant, the exhaust system on defendant’s vehicle was so loud that he could hear it with his windows closed, raising the possibility that defendant was violating a traffic ordinance regarding the state of his exhaust system.  Because Trooper believed that he had observed an illegally tinted front driver’s window as defendant drove by, it was reasonable for Trooper to suspect that defendant may have been violating a traffic ordinance.

The trial court sentenced defendant as a fourth-offense habitual offender to a term of 3 to 20 years imprisonment for the OUIL III conviction, 12 months in jail for driving with a suspended license, and 90 days in jail for possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, with credit for 213 days served.

MCL 257.709(1)(a) provides that a person shall not operate a motor vehicle with [a] sign, poster, nontransparent material, window application, reflective film, or nonreflective film upon or in the front windshield, the side windows immediately adjacent to the driver or front passenger, or the sidewings adjacent to and forward of the driver or front passenger, except that a tinted film may be used along the top edge of the windshield and the side windows or sidewings immediately adjacent to the driver or front passenger if the material does not extend more than 4 inches from the top of the windshield, or lower than the shade band, whichever is closer to the top of the windshield.

There is no denying that Michigan has harsh punishments for drinking and driving; jail, probation and license suspension are all possible. Retaining a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who is committed to protecting your rights as soon as you are charged is essential. We will look into the details of your charges and determine if police violated your rights.

Aldrich Legal Services serves clients throughout southeast Michigan, including in Wayne County, Washtenaw County and Oakland County, who are facing traffic-related charges. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with an experienced lawyer.

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