NJ Supreme Court rules that traffic stop for tinted window violation is unconstitutional

On June 28, 2022, the NJ Supreme Court issued its decision in the matter of State v. David L.
, which effectively narrowed the applicability of New Jersey’s window tint statute.

N.J.S.A. 39:3-74 (the window tint statute) prohibits operation of a vehicle with any “non-transparent material” on the front windshield or front side windows.” As the Court indicated, although the statute predates automotive window tinting, it commonly serves as the statutory basis for tinted window violations.

In a unanimous 6-0 ruling, the Court held that the motor vehicle stop at issue (which was predicated on officers allegedly observing dark tinting on defendant’s rear windshield) was not supported by a reasonable and articulable suspicion of a motor vehicle violation. They clarified that the status only applies when a vehicle’s front windshield or front side windows are so darkly tinted that police cannot clearly see people or articles within the car.

The underlying case involved defendant, David Smith, who was stopped by detectives with the Trenton Police Department after they purportedly observed his vehicle to have a tinted rear windshield. Upon approaching the vehicle (even despite the “tint”) they allegedly saw Mr. Smith making a furtive “shoving” movement, raising suspicions that he was attempting to conceal a weapon. His vehicle was searched and a firearm was recovered. Mr. Smith was arrested and charged with various weapons-related offenses.

Despite the fact that the case against Mr. Smith was dismissed during the course of the appeal, the NJ Supreme Court considered the issue presented because it was “of sufficient public importance and likely to surface again.”

The Court has been commended for taking a sensible approach in interpreting the statute at issue to protect against pretextual traffic stops that can be problematic for motorists of color. As per Seton Hall Law Professor Jonathan Romberg (who submitted a brief in the case), the decision is a big step forward in the battle to prevent police from using traffic violations to search for evidence of a crime.

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges for a weapons-related offense or were charged under circumstances that may have involved a violation of your Constitutional rights, you need an aggressive attorney who can fight for a just outcome. Alissa D. Hascup, Esq. has defended the rights of thousands charged with serious crimes throughout NJ. Contact her office 24/7 for a free initial consultation.