Friday, January 31, 2014

Window tint: that old chestnut

US v. Green:  Each of the fifty states has its own laws regarding the legally permissible amount of tint that may be present on car windows, and not surprisingly, the levels of acceptable tint can vary significantly when crossing state borders.  Illegally tinted windows, or those which appear to violate local laws, can provide a sufficient basis for a traffic stop.

Virginia police stopped Herbert Green for the level of tint in his car windows, as well as a partially obscured license plate.  Green did not argue prior to pleading guilty that the traffic stop was illegal at its inception.  He did, however, file two motions to suppress, to contest the length of the traffic stop and the reliability of the drug-detecting dog that alerted to the vehicle.  The district court denied both motions; Green entered a conditional guilty plea to preserve his right to appeal the denial of his two motions to suppress; and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

On appeal, Green argued that the traffic stop was unreasonably long without justification by reasonable suspicion.  Focusing on the second prong of inquiry under Terry (since the stop was considered legal at its inception), the scope component, the Fourth Circuit panel found the stop scope and duration was reasonable based on several “prompt” actions taken by the police to establish that the windows were, in fact, in violation of Virginia law.  

Secondly, Green argued that the police dog’s field performance was so poor that his alert was insufficient probable cause to search the vehicle.  Under totality of the circumstances review, the Fourth Circuit rejected Green’s second claim because the government was able to present sufficient evidence of the dog’s reliability in detecting drugs.

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