Virginia legislature passes bill preventing cops from stopping cars with no headlights, brake lights, etc.

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The following contains editorial content written by a retired Chief of Police and current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today.

RICHMOND, VA- The pure “genius” of the Virginia General Assembly knows no bounds.

One of the leading indicators of a drunk driver at night is a car that is operating with no lights on. Criminals who are casing neighborhoods for burglaries also like to cruise around with their lights off.

Under a law passed by the General Assembly, police officers would no longer be able to use operating without lights lit as probable cause to conduct a traffic stop. There are numerous other equipment violations that are included as well.

As we said, pure genius.

Yahoo News, citing a report from The Daily Press, says the legislation, which is headed to the desk of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), also bars police from stopping cars for a variety of equipment violations—from darkly tinted windows (another tactic enjoyed by criminals) to faulty brake lights, loud mufflers, or objects dangling from rearview mirrors.

Not only that, but officers are prohibited from pulling drivers over for expired inspection stickers, unless they are three months overdue, or for having outdated registration plates. Genius.

Typical for a state legislator, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, Patrick Hope claimed not to know that police were no longer allowed to stop vehicles for not having their lights illuminated, until he was asked about it by a reporter from The Daily Press. He said he would “look into” that aspect of the bill. Just in time, right?

Absurdly, Hope said that he had talked to attorneys to who told him someone driving without headlights could still be pulled over for reckless driving or suspicion of driving impaired.

So honestly, what the hell difference does it make? What’s the point of removing no headlights from offenses officers can stop someone for and replacing it with one of the above two offenses? Does that make any sense?

“Headlights was never something that I had focused on, and at no time did I mention headlights in any discussion,” Hope said.

Guess the magic legislative fairy just dropped it in there.

“I sleep well at night with the other things that are in there,” he said. “The brake lights—I’m not concerned about that as a safety issue—but I can certainly see how headlights could be of concern. I’ll go back and take a second look at that and maybe there’s something we can do.”

“Not concerned about that as a safety issue?” Is this guy for real? What on earth does he think brake lights are for? They are there to warn people following behind of a hazard, or that the vehicle is slowing down to either make a turn or stop. They are there for a reason. But these ignorant bozos make the laws.

It gets better. The bill, known as House Bill 5058, would also prohibit police officers from conducting a vehicle search if they smell marijuana, a typical indicator which gives officers probable cause to search cars for illegal drugs.

Proponents of the legislation claim that officers abuse that practice, claiming officers can “make up” smelling the odor of pot, and therefore—wait for it—can “perpetuate racial disparities in the justice system.” Because as well all know, only people of color smoke dope.

Arlington Public Defender Brad Haywood loves the idea, saying:

“This might be the most significant reform of the state’s criminal justice system in decades. This is a big step forward for racial justice in Virginia,” the executive director of Justice Forward Virginia said.

Law enforcement groups, however slammed the legislation, arguing that it will damage community policing efforts, and thwart officers’ ability to act proactively in detecting and fighting criminal activity. They claim it will also make roads in the state significantly less safe.

“Do they not care about public safety at all?” asked Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Department. “It’s gone beyond being anti-police now. Now, they’re anti-public safety and the safety of citizens.”

Diggs contends that matters such as working brake lights are important in order to prevent accidents.

“And no headlights?” Diggs asked indignantly. “No headlights are one of the top indicators of a drunk driver…the smell of marijuana? They don’t care about people driving impaired, maybe getting ready to kill someone. That’s a significant problem in states where marijuana is legal.”

Both Diggs and Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police say that if lawmakers don’t like particular laws, just repeal those and do not move away from enforcement.

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Schrad said if Northam signs the bill and it becomes law:

“Virginia will end up with more crashes and more fatalities.

A local defense attorney, Ron Smith said that stops based upon the smell of marijuana lead to a lot of court cases. He said that even though marijuana has moved toward a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense for low amounts, police use the smell of marijuana as a means to get into cars and search them.

He said the legislation could lend itself to a “significant” reduction in local court cases.

“It’s not gonna be very busy in the courtroom, I can tell you that,” he said. “The number of cases is going to drop dramatically.

He noted that he had been talking to a prosecutor a few days earlier and “he was like, ‘We’re not going to have much to do, are we?’”

The bill passed both houses of the General Assembly along party lines with (of course) all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. Northam can now decide whether to sign the bill into law or mark it up and send it back to the legislature with changes.

“Governor Northam is committed to comprehensive criminal justice reform and looks forward to reviewing this legislation,” Northam’s spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said.

This bill is another in line of criminal justice “reform” legislation filed in this session of the Virginia General Assembly in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.

This bill came about, Haywood said because data allegedly shows there’s a “wide racial disparity” in police stops for equipment violations. He claimed that regarding equipment violations, “if you’re black, you’re much more likely to be pulled over.”

He also claims that “pre-textual policing is probably the primary source of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

Smith claims that police in the Commonwealth often pull people over because one of the two lights illuminating the rear license plate is inoperable, or there is something hanging from the rearview mirror.

“If you get stopped for a dangling object, you don’t have to be very wise to know that the officer didn’t care about the dangling object,” Smith said.

“The real reason is that he thinks something else is up…So he finds something like a dangling object and then he stops you—and then he says he smelled marijuana. It’s a free search warrant.”

Yup, because for Democrats and liberals, cops are the bad guys, right?

He did add, “But I will say this. Those stops, sometimes, lead to bigger things.”

When officers stop a vehicle, they will typically run the plate number through NCIC, or the National Crime Information Center database. If the car is stolen, or there is an active warrant for the driver or occupants of the car, that gives the officer the right to place them under arrest.

Obviously, if upon stopping a car and having probable cause to search it, an officer finds items such as stolen property, illegal handguns or drugs, occupants can be arrested.

Hope claimed that during hearings and in “webinars in stakeholder groups,” he “heard from, mostly from communities, people of color, that being pulled over by law enforcement was more than just an anxious event. It was very fearful for them.”

But, this isn’t about the traffic violator according to Hope. It’s for “officer safety” as well. Yeah, right.

“That can escalate to something that can be very dangerous,” he said. “And I should also add that it’s not just a danger just for the person behind the wheel. It’s also dangerous for law enforcement to pull someone over on the side of a highway.”

In among the prohibited stops includes the use of a cell phone—whether handheld or not—while operating under a learner’s permit. Wait, what?

They are going to permit young, inexperienced drivers to compound their inexperience by allowing them to utilize electronic devices while driving and not using that as a pretext for a traffic stop? You honestly cannot make this stuff up.

Not to confuse the issue, but the prohibited violations could still be cited, but only as secondary enforcement. So, if an inexperienced driver on a learner’s permit crashes into someone while using their cellphone, you could then cite them for it. Got it.

The law goes further. If an officer stops a car for any of the reasons cited in the bill, any evidence they find is inadmissible. In other words, as Diggs says:

“If I was to stop a car for no headlights or something, and there’s a dead body in the backseat, that’s just too bad—‘Oh well.’ They just don’t care about the detection of crime anymore.”

Diggs also mentioned that sometimes, an officer will stop a car as a courtesy just to let the driver know, “Hey, did you know your tail lights are out?”

He also disputed the notion that police officers specifically target minorities for traffic stops.

“That’s one of the biggest lies out there,” he said. “When you ride around at night in your car, see if you can determine the race…of the person in front of you.”

Smith said if the bill is signed that policing in Virginia will have to change.

“It think they’ll have to evolve into a different type of crime-solving,” he said. “They’ll have to concentrate on bigger things. They’ll have to evolve into a different kind of crime detection.”

Concentrate on bigger things? Like the increase in vehicle accidents and fatalities caused by such a tone-deaf, ignorant and plain old stupid law like this? Those kind of bigger things?

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