Have you ever been pulled over because you had a tail light out?
Did you even get pulled over for a safety issue and then get a ticket for something else?
Was the cop looking out for your safety?
How many tail lights need to be working?
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
During the evening of February 3, 2014 the defendant was driving a Toyota Camry with one of its tail lights out. A Mount Olive Township Police Officer, Michael Carletta was on patrol and saw the defendant driving. Carletta pulled over the defendant to let him know about the safety issue. When Carletta approached the car the defendant was asked for his license and registration. Defendant did not have a license at the time since it was suspended. Carletta gave the defendant a ticket and told the passenger to drive home. Carletta’s traffic stop only took around fifteen minutes and did not even ask for any information from the passenger. Carletta tried to make the defendant aware of the safety issue of his car and just so happened to have a suspended license.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the charge of driving with a suspended license. He argued that since there was three other working taillights there was no need to stop him. Defendant was driving properly and committed no other act to attract the officer to pull him over. Carletta even knew all you needed was two working tail lights however, he stopped defendant for community caretaking. Yet, he asked for his license and registration instead of just letting the defendant know that his one tail light was out. The judge noted that Carletta “did not express any public safety concerns in his role as a ‘caretaker,'” and made the factual finding that Carletta “acted solely and exclusively pursuant to law enforcement objectives, based on his good faith, yet misplaced, belief as to the impact of N.J.S.A. 39:3-66.” The judge decided to suppress the motion since the stop was not looking out for the safety of anyone.
During the appeal, the state claims that the stop was justified under the community caretaking doctrine. As well as, the officer had reasonable and articulable suspicious of a motor vehicle violation. The state mentions how the officer was in the right about stopping the defendant even though, the officer had a “mistaken view of the law.” The non working light bulb was seen in the cop cam and the stopping of the defendant was done in good faith. The appellate court revised the judge’s decision and found the cop was acting under his discretion even if the view of the law was mistaken.