Court Upholds Police Practice of Pulling Over Uninsured Drivers Based on LEIN Info
The Court of Appeals said police may pull over cars that the Law Enforcement Information Network shows has no insurance. This is from People v. Mazzie.
What Happened in the Case
The case was based on a traffic stop made by Monroe City Police Officers. The officers stopped the car because the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) showed that the vehicle had no insurance. Defendant was a front seat passenger in the car. Police later found cocaine in the car, and conducted a search warrant on the house, leading to further charges for Defendant.
Arguments and Issues in Court
Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence. He argued the police had no reasonable suspicion to pull the car over. Reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is the standard police must meet to pull over a car.
At issue in the hearing was the police practice of pulling over cars because the officers believed the car has no insurance.
What happens is a police officer runs a license plate number through the LEIN system. One piece of information that LEIN gives is whether a car has insurance.
However, that information is only updated twice a month. Insurance companies are only required to report the insurance information to the Secretary of State on the 1st and 15th of each month.
In court, the Defendant argued the LEIN information on insurance is unreliable because that info is only updated twice a month by the Secretary of State.
The officers testified that the LEIN information regarding insurance is correct at least 90% of the time. The officers acknowledged they pull over people for not having insurance who do in fact have insurance.
Defendant also argued that the insurance reporting to LEIN violates a statute requiring confidentiality of insurance information.
The Trial Court’s Decision
The trial court agreed with Defendant that this was a bad stop. The trial court was concerned that the insurance reporting information was too unreliable to produce reasonable suspicion. Also, the trial court further believed the insurance information confidentiality statute did not allow for use of the information on LIEN. The Prosecution appealed.
The Court of Appeals addressed Defendant’s unreliability argument and violation of confidentiality argument.
Court of Appeals did not agree with the trial court that the LEIN insurance info was unreliable. The Court said that at most the insurance information in LIEN would be 16 days old. There is nothing to suggest, the Court said, that staleness of vehicle information for this amount of time should be a factor in whether the police may pull over a car. The Court looked to case law from other jurisdictions supporting officers pulling over vehicles based on even older information.
The Court held that a violation of not having insurance is an ongoing type of crime, rather than a one-time occurrence type of crime. This would lead an officer to have the minimal amount of justification for a stop based on reasonable suspicion.
As to confidentiality of insurance info, the Court of Appeals ruled that a violation of that statute should not result in exclusion of evidence. This remedy would be correct if it were a constitutional violation. The Court said this was not a constitutional issue, but rather a statutory violation. The remedy for a statutory violation is not suppression, the Court said.
Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Ann Arbor, MI.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI.