Court Finds Reasonable Grounds for Traffic Stop
Case: People v. Mountain, (Unpublished Opinion)
Search & seizure; Motion to suppress; Traffic stop based on the belief defendant was violating the anti-texting statute (MCL 257.602b); Stopping & detaining a vehicle on the basis of a civil infraction in violation of the Michigan Vehicle Code; People v. Dunbar; A particularized & objective basis for suspecting that a defendant was breaking the law; Heien v. North Carolina
Holding that it was reasonable for the state trooper (G) to think that defendant was texting in violation of MCL 257.602b, the court reversed the trial court’s order granting defendant’s motion to suppress, and remanded. G saw defendant “driving with no hands on the steering wheel.” Defendant was focused on the cell phone he held in one hand; his other hand was running through his hair. After G stopped his car, defendant “admitted to looking at Snapchat while driving.” G smelled marijuana in the car, and a search turned up “marijuana and prescription Xanax in the passenger compartment, and a shotgun and small safe in the trunk.” In granting defendant’s motion to suppress, the trial court ruled that G lacked probable cause for the stop given that defendant “was not reading, writing, or sending a text message and was otherwise driving appropriately[.]” The court disagreed, concluding that the prosecution’s evidence showed that it was reasonable for G to believe that defendant was texting while driving. He saw defendant “holding and looking at his phone. Neither of [his] hands was on the wheel. [He] was so engrossed in what he was doing that he did not notice the trooper’s presence until the stop began.” Instead of waiting for defendant to use his fingers on the phone’s screen, G inferred that he “was in the midst of reading or sending a text message, both of which are prohibited under MCL 257.602b(1).” The court found that G’s “mistake of fact was objectively reasonable. He need not have seen the images on” the phone to suspect that defendant was communicating with someone by using it. “Although studying Snapchat is different than texting, [G] reached a common sense conclusion” that defendant was violating a traffic law, which established adequate grounds for the stop.