State v. Roman-Rosado

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

The dual cases of State v. Roman-Rosado and State v. Carter deal with when might police effectuate a motor vehicle stop on the basis of a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-33, which reads in part as follows: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle which has a license plate frame or identification marker holder that conceals or otherwise obscures any part of any marking imprinted upon the vehicle’s registration plate . . . .”

Before both of these cases were decided, police had unfettered discretion in deciding how to enforce the statute.  In both of these cases, the police engaged in pretextual stops.  They stopped each defendant because part of the license plate was covered.  As the arresting officer in Roman-Rosado candidly conceded, though, the purpose of the stop was to try to develop a criminal investigation. The police found contraband in both cases — drugs in one matter and a gun in the other — which formed the grounds for defendants’ convictions.

Defendants in both cases argued that N.J.S.A. 39:3-33 was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and invited discriminatory enforcement.  The Supreme Court of New Jersey concluded that N.J.S.A. 39:3-33 requires that all markings on a license plate be legible or identifiable. If a frame conceals or obscures a marking in a way that it cannot reasonably be identified or discerned, the driver would be in violation of the law. In practice, if a registration letter or number is not legible, the statute would apply; but if a phrase like “Garden State” is partly covered but still recognizable, there would be no violation. Under that standard, defendant Darius Carter’s license plate frame, which covered the phrase “Garden State” entirely, violated the law, so the stop was lawful. In contrast, defendant Miguel Roman-Rosado’s plate frame did not cover “Garden State.” It partially covered only ten or fifteen percent of the slogan, which was still fully legible, so the stop was unlawful.

This is important to you because while you may be abiding by all of the traffic laws in regards to your driving down the road, the police may still stop your vehicle for your license plate cover.  This opens you up to exposure to the police, who will be searching for any contraband that is in plain view, that will be smelling your breath to see if you have been drinking and driving, and conducting all other forms of criminal investigation that they are legally allowed to do during a motor vehicle stop.

You can avoid this hassle by sending us a picture of your license plate, and we can tell you whether or not you are in conformity with the law.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

Leave a Comment