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Criminal Justice Reforms: Bill to Limit Pretextual Stops Advances in House and Senate


Lawmakers are moving forward with efforts to crack down on a controversial practice of pretextual policing.

A few years ago, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in a case out of Hampton that a parking pass dangling from a rearview mirror can be used as a pretext to stop a driver and ask to search the car. Now lawmakers want to crack down on pretextual policing.

Last week, Senator Louise Lucas of Portsmouth got a bill out of the Senate on a party line vote that prevents officers from stopping cars based on how loud the exhaust is or the darkness of the window tint or if a license plate is illuminated. 

“The bill also bans search or seizure of any person, place or thing solely based on the odor of marijuana,” she says.

A similar bill passed a House committee and will soon be heard on the House floor. Andy Elders at Justice Forward Virginia says that version is a little more expansive. 

“The House version has sort of a catch-all for equipment violations that do not actually affect the safe driving of the vehicle," Elders explains. "But overall, they’re pretty similar bills. It’s nice to see the House version which is a little more expansive. But certainly we would support either or any combination between them.”

If the House and Senate insist on their versions, they’ll end up in a closed door conference committee where they’ll work out their differences in a meeting that won’t be open to the public or streamed online.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.