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Air Fresheners, Fuzzy Dice and 'Other Stuff' we Hang from Our Rearview Mirror

The object must "materially obstruct" the vision of the driver to constitute a violation and a basis to pull someone over under the PA Motor Vehicle Code.

I wanted to take some time and revisit a prior article I had written entitled "I'm Pulling You Over for Fuzzy Dice." Since the writing of that article, I have had a bevy of clients that have been cited for such things as:

  • Window tint
  • Air fresheners (sometimes known in the drug culture as "felony forests")
  • Crown fresheners (stuck to dashboards)
  • Other items dangling from the rearview mirror

Often times, the simple fact that there is an item in the area of the windshield, gives police the idea to pull someone over to investigate if another type of offense is ongoing- usually drug-related. This is known as a pre-textual stop in the legal community and it's illegal.

Objects may not be hung from the inside rearview mirror or attached in any other manner so as to materially obstruct, obscure or impair the driver's vision through the front windshield, or which in any manner constitute a safety hazard. 75 Pa.C.S. § 4524(c). A police officer does not have reasonable and articulable grounds to stop a vehicle based only on his observation of an air freshener or other object hanging from the rear view mirror, absent evidence suggesting that the object appeared to "materially obstruct, obscure or impair" the driver's vision, or appeared to constitute a safety hazard. Com. v. Shabazz, 2011 PA Super 81, 18 A.3d 1217 (2011); Com. v. Felty, 443 Pa. Super. 559, 662 A.2d 1102 (1995); Com. v. Benton, 440 Pa. Super. 441, 655 A.2d 1030 (1995).

Here's what the courts have told us about what "materially obstruct, obscure or impairs" means:

  • Com v. Shabazz- Held stop was valid. The combination of multiple pine-tree shaped air fresheners and three by three inch foam dice observed hanging in defendant's vehicle while defendant was driving gave police officer reasonable suspicion defendant was in violation of statute prohibiting hanging of material obstructions from vehicle's inside rearview mirror and thus supported traffic stop.
  • Com v. Felty- Held stop was invalid. The officer was unable to articulate a clear description of the object. Rather, he was only able to describe the object in murky and vague language. Couldn't testify that the object "materially obstructed the vision of the driver."
  • Com v. Benton- Held stop was invalid. Officer described the item, later identified as an air freshener, as a thin object several inches long. He was unable to testify the object "materially obstructed" the view of the driver.

If you've been pulled over and cited or warned about a window obstruction only to find out your car is being searched for drugs, contact an experienced attorney at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC. You may call us at (717) 268-4287.