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Traffic stop OK for pine-tree air freshener

A police officer who saw a “pine tree shaped” air freshener dangling from a driver’s rear-view mirror could stop the vehicle, the Virginia Court of Appeals said on March 18.

The air freshener – available at a convenience store near you – was about three inches long and three inches wide at the bottom. Those dimensions were enough to warrant the officer’s suspicion that the air freshener just might violate Va. Code § 46.2-1054, which says objects suspended from a vehicle’s sun visor or rear view mirror may not obstruct the driver’s clear view of the highway.

When the officer approached Tramaine Richardson’s black Mitsubishi, he smelled a strong odor of marijuana. When the officer searched Richardson, a bag of cocaine fell from his pants leg. At a suppression hearing, both Richardson and his mother testified there was no air freshener hanging from the mirror. But the officer came back with a photo taken just after the stop, that showed the offending air freshener.

Even though the officer only saw the vehicle for a second or two as he passed Richardson on a two-lane road in Pittsylvania County, the air freshener was big enough for the officer to spot. He already was on the lookout for a black Mitsubishi, so his attention was focused on the car. In upholding the stop in an unpublished opinion in Richardson v. Commonwealth, Judge Glenn A. Huff cited a 2004 8th Circuit case that said a tree-shaped air freshener hanging in a vehicle established probable cause to stop.

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