Supreme Court Of New Jersey Reviewed the Prohibition of Car Window Tint and Concluded That the Statute Was Unconstitutionally Vague
Appellate Docket No.: A-4-21
Decided June 28, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reviewed the prohibition of “non-transparent material” on car windows, otherwise known as tint, and concluded that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, reversing a finding of reasonable suspicion and grounds to conduct a motor vehicle stop.
In Smith, in November 2018, at approximately 10:20 p.m., Trenton detectives stopped defendant David Smith’s motor vehicle for a purported tinted windows violation after the detectives observed dark tinting on defendant’s rear windshield. Despite the rear windshield’s tint, detectives were able to see that defendant was alone in the car and was making a furtive “shoving” motion, raising suspicions that he was trying to conceal a weapon. When the detectives searched the vehicle, they found a firearm. The detectives cited defendant for a tinted windows violation and charged him with various weapons offenses.
The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress the firearm, concluding that the car stop was supported by a reasonable suspicion of a tinted windows violation pursuant to adjacent statute N.J.S.A. 39:3-75. Defendant subsequently pled guilty to second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted certification, limited to whether the State established a reasonable and articulable suspicion for the car stop. 248 N.J. 386 (2021). The Court found that in this instance, the N.J.S.A. 39:3-74 provides only a prohibition on front and side window tint. There was rear window shield tint here, and thus the statute did not apply and the officers lacked reasonable suspicion. The Court went further for completeness and found that the language in N.J.S.A. 39:3-74 prohibiting tint was unconstitutionally ambiguous, finding that the term “non-transparent” can only mean that the individuals in the vehicle cannot be viewed at all through the tint. Because the officers could see the individuals in the vehicle in this case, the tint was not “non-transparent”.
This case is important to understand that prior to this decision, window tint was an easy way for police to conduct a motor vehicle stop, as it was viewed in violation of the motor vehicle code. To conduct a stop, officers only need a reasonable suspicion that a traffic offense was being committed. Even if the driver had an appropriate prescription for the tint, the stop was still legal and the stop could lead to other findings to search a car. Now, police cannot use tint as a basis for a stop, unless the tint is completely non-transparent and it is either on the front or side windows. Tint only on the rear wind shield or tint that is dark but not completely transparent are no longer a basis for a motor vehicle stop.
If you have been charged with any first degree crime, second degree crime, third degree crime, fourth degree crime, disorderly persons offense, municipal ordinance violation, or traffic ticket / DUI/DWI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to ensure prosecutors, police, and even judges follow the law.
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