Kingsville, TX — Last Thursday, the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled that it is suspicious for a vehicle to have air fresheners, rosaries, or pro-police bumper stickers.
The ruling stems from a 2011 Texas court case in which a couple was pulled over for having rosaries hanging from the rearview mirror, as well as a few air fresheners, and a DARE sticker on the back of the vehicle.
Nohemi Pena-Gonzalez was pulled over by Police Officer Mike Tamez when she was driving just 2 MPH over the speed limit. The officer did not pull her over because she was speeding, but because he suspected that she was trafficking drugs, and found the contents of her vehicle and the sticker to be suspicious.
Eventually, the officer questioned her husband, Ruben Pena-Gonzalez, who agreed to allow the officer search to their vehicle. The officer did not find any drugs, but did find a large sum of cash that he confiscated, and then sent Ruben Pena-Gonzalez to jail.
Recently, the case was taken to the Court of Appeals, where it was decided that Officer Tamez had reasonable suspicion to detain the family and ask to search their vehicle.
The court wrote in its decision that:
“We do have concerns that classifying pro-law enforcement and anti-drug stickers or certain religious imagery as indicators of criminal activity risks putting drivers in a classic ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ position. But we need not decide whether these items alone, or in combination with one another, amount to reasonable suspicion because we find the more suspicious evidence to be the array of air fresheners and inconsistencies in the driver’s responses to the officer’s basic questions. We have long recognized that the presence of air fresheners, let alone four of them placed throughout an SUV, suggests a desire to mask the odor of contraband.” …
I use air fresheners in my car because I like the interior to smell good, not because I carry contraband. In fact, I have 2 or 3 empty containers lying on the floor right now. (I swear, they still smell good.) I guess I better get rid of them or I’ll be suspected of being a drug dealer.
But this court has provided useful information for me. Now I know that if I run across somebody with a rosary or cross hanging in their car, along with a pro-law enforcement sticker, I’ll have finally found me a drug dealer. Hopefully, he or she will have premium bud at bargain basement prices. 🙂