More Window Obstruction Stops: Pretext For Profiling?


One Illinois driver was pulled over by police for his window-mounted GPS unit. For another, it was her handicapped placard. Mark Hubbard was nailed for an air freshener. The Chicago Tribune says an increasing number of drivers are being cited for windshield and window obstructions, which can include anything an officer deems to “materially obstruct” a driver’s vision. The only exceptions are government-issued items such as I-PASS boxes and parking stickers.

Since 2004, the number of motorists stopped by state police for breaking the obscure law has jumped 91 percent. In 2004, about 20,000 drivers were warned or cited, most of them receiving warnings. This year, the number is expected to hit about 38,000. Civil-rights advocates and defense lawyers see in the stops an arbitrary excuse to pull over drivers and proceed to a more invasive search. John Marshall law Prof. Timothy O’Neill said window-obstructions are one of many “pretext stops” made possible by federal and state court rulings that expanded legal protection for police. “Since 1996, we’ve seen more people being pulled over for trivial offenses,” he said. In Illinois, the people most pulled over are minorities.

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