BY John Buzzuro
Obviously, the easy way to avoid being pulled over is to refrain from violating any traffic violations. However, in my practice, I have recently seen a number of people pulled over for reasons other than moving violations under the traffic code. Because the first defense for attorneys in representing individuals in municipal court is to challenge whether or not the officer had appropriate cause under New Jersey law to actually make the stop in the first place, any “legal” reason that an officer has to effectuate a traffic stop makes the attorneys’ defense of any case much more difficult.
Other than moving violations, the four most used violations by officers to validate a potential, otherwise “illegal” traffic stop have to do with simple equipment violations that can be resolved rather quickly and inexpensively.
The first equipment violation relates to the “improper” covering of a license plate by a license plate frame. License plate frames are generally the plastic “frames” that are given out by most car dealers or that can be bought in any automotive store. New Jersey law prohibits a motor vehicle from having a license plate frame which conceals or otherwise obscures “any marking” on the license plate. Thus, if a portion of the words “New Jersey” or “Garden State” is obscured on your license plate in any way, a police officer has the legal right to effectuate a traffic stop.
The second violation relates to items hanging off of your rearview mirror and other obstructions of the windshield and front side windows. New Jersey law pro- hibits the operation of any vehicle which is “constructed, equipped or loaded” so as to “unduly” interfere with the driver’s vision. New Jersey case law has held that items hanging from the rearview mirror could fall under the language of this stat- ute. However, the statute also includes the existence of stickers, signs, radar detec- tors, navigation systems or any other device or mechanism attached to the front windshield.
The third violation relates to tinted windows. The same statute that restricts the hanging of anything from the rear view mirror also has been construed to hold that tinted windows constitute such an obstruction of view and, as such, the tinting of any three of your front windows would constitute appropriate cause for a law enforcement officer to pull you over even where you have not committed a moving traffic violation.
The fourth violation relates to broken lights on your vehicle such as headlights, taillights, brake lights and signal lights. Even where you have not committed a moving traffic violation, a law enforcement officer has appropriate cause to effectuate a traffic stop where he observes that one of your lights is not operational.
It should be noted that the fines and penalties for these violations, in and of themselves, are not excessive. However, as is often the case, the law enforcement officers, upon effectuating a traffic stop will then observe that the driver or passengers in the vehicle have violated other motor vehicle and/or criminal statutes such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI), possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), possession of drug paraphernalia, open containers of alcohol in a vehicle, possession of a weapon or any other offenses which the officer may observe during a traffic stop. Once you are pulled over for a valid reason, it is difficult for an attorney to challenge the traffic stop on the basis of articulable suspicion or probable cause.
Accordingly, in light of all of the above, it is prudent to make sure that your mo- tor vehicle complies with all of the above statutes in order to prevent being pulled over by law enforcement even where you have not actually committed a moving traffic violation.