Officer Did Not Have Reasonable Articulable Suspicions of a Tinted Windows Violation That Was Needed to Justify a Motor Vehicle Stop
Docket No. A-2163-20
Decided September 23, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence following a motor vehicle stop, after he appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion.
The facts of the case are as follows: On August 21, 2019 a police officer noticed the defendant driving with tinted windows, a black bumper, and no front license plate. The officer began to follow the vehicle and observed an Arizona rear license plate registered to a rental agency in Arizona. The officer trailed the defendant from the gas station and into a parking lot of a shopping plaza, and after about fifteen seconds, the defendant drove away from the shopping plaza in the direction where he had originally come. Due to the tinted windows, suspicious driving behavior, and believing the defendant was trying to distance himself from the officer, the officer turned on his emergency lights and conducted the motor vehicle stop.
As the officer approached the defendant’s vehicle, he detected an overwhelming odor of raw marijuana emanating out of the vehicle. The officer read the passenger and the driver, defendant, their Miranda rights and ordered the defendant out of the vehicle. As he was exiting the vehicle, the defendant advised the officer that he had a pistol in his waistband. The officer subsequently handcuffed the defendant, placed the defendant in the back of the police car, and recovered from the defendant’s person a semi-automatic handgun, loaded with fifteen rounds in the magazine and an empty chamber. A later of search of the vehicle pursuant to a search warrant revealed a large amount of illegal narcotics. Defendant was ultimately charged with multiple drug and weapons offenses.
Defendant moved to suppress the evidence arguing the officer lacked reasonable articulable suspicion of a motor vehicle violation or a crime to justify the stop and that the State failed to present evidence proving that his windows were illegally tinted.
The trial court denied the motion, ruling that the officer had a good faith objective belief that defendant’s vehicle violated the tinted window statute. Defendant entered a negotiated guilty plea and appealed the denial of his suppression motion.
On appeal, the Appellate ruled that the officer did not have reasonable articulable suspicions of a tinted windows violation that was needed to justify a motor vehicle stop. The court reasoned that the officer’s testimony failed to establish articulable facts supporting reasonable suspicion of a tinted window violation. The Appellate Court noted that the officer admitted that the driver’s window was not so tinted to block the officer’s view of defendant.
Additionally, the Appellate court ruled that under the totality of circumstances, absent the tinted windows violation, the trial court’s suspicions that the vehicle’s occupants were engaged in unlawful “Felony Lane Gang” activities, based on the car having out-of-state plates, no front plates, and turning around in a shopping center, does not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion either. As a result, since the State failed to meet its burden of proof to validate the motor vehicle stop, the gun, ammunition, and drugs seized must be suppressed as fruits of the unlawful stop. Defendant’s convictions and sentence were vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to motions to suppress evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
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