The law when it comes to littering

A citizen sent me the following question: “I was driving on M-32 near Hillman when a passenger in the car in front of me tossed a bag from a fast-food restaurant out the window. This enraged me, so I tried memorizing the license plate number at least long enough to contact law enforcement. The citizen then stated they began to think about the situation a little further … What could I do to make sure the litterer was found at fault? Could I call the police non-emergency line to report the litterer? Would the police, who are busy with more threatening crimes, even care about a litterer? Would I have to testify in court about this in court because I was the reporting witness?”

Under Michigan law as it relates to littering, MCL 324.8903 discusses: Causing litter or object to fall or be thrown into path of or to hit vehicle. Within this section it states, “(1) A person shall not knowingly cause litter or any object to fall or to be thrown into the path of or to hit a vehicle traveling upon a highway.” MCL 324.9501 lists the definition of litter as, “rubbish, refuse, waste material, garbage, offal, paper, glass, cans, bottles, trash, debris, or other foreign substances of every kind and description.”

So in the above situation where the citizen is describing the fast-food bag being thrown from the car as long as the trooper witnesses the bag being thrown from the car according to this statute, MCL 324.8903, “(2) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both.”

The hard part of this statute is the officer must witness the offense or the officer will have to determine if the reporting party is willing to testify in court as to what they witnessed during the littering incident. The officer would then have to take the witness’ statement, the suspected violator’s statement, then file a report with the prosecutor and have the prosecutor authorize criminal charges.

Other than the chance that their litter causes a major event, such as a forest fire, the witness would be spending an afternoon in court testifying to what they observed in those short few seconds of the littering incident. If there is a car available to head in the direction of incident, most times the person has arrived at their destination and has stopped the behavior prior to the officer’s presence.

Ashley Simpson is a Community Service Trooper for the MSP Alpena Post. If you have a question for Trooper Simpson, you can email her at asktroopersimpson@gmail.com or mail them to Ask A Trooper, Michigan State Police – Alpena Post, 3283 W. Washington Ave, Alpena, MI 49707.