Window Tint Will Almost Always Be Grounds for Police to Pull You Over
Appellate Docket No.: A-0210-19
Decided April 5, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed whether a police traffic stop was lawful when police believed there was window tint even though there actually was not unlawful tint.
In State v. Cohen, On February 22, 2018, New Jersey State Police Trooper Paul Riccioli observed a 2006 Saab with heavily tinted windows in apparent violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-75, prompting the trooper to initiate a motor vehicle stop. Defendant was operating the vehicle, which belonged to his son’s girlfriend. Both defendant and his son, who was also in car, claimed that the windows were not improperly tinted. During the encounter, the trooper learned from the dispatcher that defendant’s driver’s license was suspended. The trooper issued defendant a summons for driving while suspended but decided against issuing a ticket for the tinted window violation because defendant was cooperative. A subsequent investigation revealed that defendant’s license had been suspended as a result of multiple driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions. Defendant was subsequently indicted for the upgraded offense set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b)
Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that the trooper lacked reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the vehicle. Judge Cook convened an evidentiary hearing at which Trooper Riccioli, defendant, and his son testified. Defendant maintained that the trooper was mistaken about the window tinting and claimed there was no obstruction of his view or distortion of visibility sufficient to constitute a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-75.
Judge Cook found that Trooper Riccioli’s testimony was credible. The judge concluded that the trooper had reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe the window tinting violated N.J.S.A. 39:3-75 and thus had an objectively reasonable basis upon which to initiate a motor vehicle stop to investigate the suspected violation.
Defendant appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed, making the distinction between mistake of fact and mistake of law. If the officer mistakenly interprets the law which turns out to be incorrect, this could be grounds to defeat a motor vehicle stop for lacking reasonable and articulable suspicion. On the other hand, if the officer believes they witnessed a traffic violation that turns out not to be true, for instance, seeing what they believe to be unlawful tint when it turns out not to be true, this can still be grounds to conduct a traffic stop, as long as the officer’s observations were reasonable.
The importance in this case is understanding what is required for police to conduct a motor vehicle stop. If police witness a motor vehicle violation, this gives them reasonable and articulable suspicion to lawfully conduct a motor vehicle stop. Taken further, if police honestly believe they witnessed a motor vehicle stop even though it turns out not to be true, it is still lawful grounds to conduct a motor vehicle stop.
Having tint on your windows can almost always be grounds for police to conduct a motor vehicle stop, even if the tint is lawful. It only requires police to honestly believe the tint is an obstruction of the driver’s view.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for traffic violations such as driving under the influence (DUI) driving while intoxicated (DWI), leaving the scene of an accident, failing to report an accident, driving while suspended, and all other traffic violations, and all criminal charges. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
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