Wednesday, December 12, 2007

People v. Colbert (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 11, 2007)

Got one of those ubiquitous tree-shaped air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror in your car? Then read this case. Since it holds that this object (or pretty much anything else) provides the police with a proper pretext to stop your car.

It's an interesting opinion for another reason as well. There's a First District case that's directly on point that holds that those tree-shaped things are too small to block your vision out of the front windshield and thus don't provide a legitimate basis for a police seizure. The First District discussed the facts (and testimony) in that case at length to support its view that the tree-shaped things are legal. Rather than just disagree with the holding of that case (which he's entitled to do, of course), Justice Mihara finds that case "distinguishable" because, here, the police officer simply testified that, in his experience, those tree-shaped things sometimes block the driver's view. In other words, that the First District's holding is easily circumvented as long as you have a police officer -- the same officer who admittedly stopped the defendant in a pretextual search -- testify that, yeah, in his view, the stop was legitimate.

I don't find that argument persuasive. I'd have preferred Justice Mihara to simply disagree with the other case. Or, alternately, address the merits and decide one way or the other whether those tree-shaped things are legal or not. They either do or do not illegally block a driver's view. Sure, maybe it's technically okay to simply say "Well, the police officer said X, so what do I care what the true facts are?" -- though I even have my doubts on that point, at least when the facts are objectively verifiable. But even if that's legitimate, I think a better approach would be to address the merits.

Anyway, for now: Take those air fresheners out. Unless you want to be stopped.