St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Towing Balls and License Plates – A Case Study

Towing Balls and License Plates
One of the primary reasons it’s important to hire a criminal defense attorney in Michigan when preparing to defend yourself in court is that you may not be aware of factors in state law that could work in your benefit. It is your attorney’s job to use the law to your advantage by leveraging his expertise to spot problems in the prosecution’s case. When executed correctly, a strong defense may dramatically lessen the penalties you face or could result in your case being dismissed altogether.

Here’s an interesting example: A Michigan man was recently arrested after police discovered contraband in his truck. According to the law enforcement officers involved in the arrest, the initial traffic stop was performed because the truck’s towing ball obscured part of the license plate, which the officers took as a violation of a Michigan state law (MCL 257.225(2)) that requires a vehicle’s license plate to “be maintained free from foreign materials that obscure or partially obscure the registration information and in a clearly legible condition.” The driver did not show any suspicious behavior and did not violate any other traffic laws.

After review, however, it was determined that the trial court made an error by not suppressing the evidence. Why? Because a towing ball doesn’t actually qualify as a violation of the license plate law. The appeals court determined that thousands of vehicles in Michigan are equipped with towing balls, and that the “mere presence” of one is not a violation of the cited law. Thus, the officers involved had no legitimate reason to perform the initial stop and the evidence obtained during the stop should not have been admitted in court. The appeals court reversed the original court’s decision based on this determination.

A criminal lawyer in Michigan will know how to spot opportunities like this one to ensure you are treated fairly by the courts. In the case of this specific driver, it was necessary for the decision to be escalated to a superior court for further review. This case can be considered a precedent for future similar cases, but the main point is that a deep understanding of Michigan laws is your strongest ally in the courtroom.
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