Are you driving on a rejection sticker? If so, you’re inviting the police to pull you over.
Virginia law allows officers to stop any vehicle who they have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” to believe is in violation of a law. I like to refer to this standard as “more than a hunch.” This means that they need to be able to point to some reason in order to stop you. Random stops or stops based on a hunch are illegal.
How do rejection stickers play into this?
The Commonwealth requires all vehicles to have an annual safety inspection. If your vehicle doesn’t pass, they put a rejection sticker on it. From that date, you have 15 days to get the problem fixed and obtain a passing safety inspection.
Here’s the key: you still can’t drive the vehicle if it has defective or improper equipment. That’s a separate violation from driving without a proper inspection. An equipment violation definitely gives the police a legal reason to stop you.
A rejection sticker essentially says “this car failed a recent inspection attempt due to a safety issue.” It’s practically a sign on your car that asks officers to pull you over to see if you still have defective or improper equipment.
The Virginia Court of Appeals considered this precise question in Reel v. Commonwealth. Reel was pulled over simply because his vehicle had a rejection sticker. He was convicted for driving after having been declared a habitual offender. The court denied Reel’s motion to suppress the evidence from the stop (he was trying to have the case the case tossed due to an illegal stop) saying:
When an officer sees a vehicle being operated with a rejection sticker, he knows the vehicle has been determined to have defective equipment. We hold that this knowledge provides reasonable suspicion for the officer to conduct an investigatory stop of the vehicle to determine whether the defective equipment has been repaired.
What does all this mean? If your vehicle fails a safety inspection, get the problem fixed ASAP and don’t drive the vehicle if at all possible. Otherwise, you’re begging officers to pull you over and fish for tickets. If you’ve been given a more serious charge due to a rejection sticker stop, call me; we can discuss the details and what defense we might mount.
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