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When Can a  Police Officer Pull Me Over While Driving?

 

No one wants to get pulled over by a police officer while operating a motor vehicle. The questions running through your mind are endless.  Was I speeding? Is there a warrant for my arrest?  Did I pay my car insurance? Do I have my license on me?

So why am I getting pulled over?  The official answer from law enforcement is a resonant “for safety concerns.” Police should enforce the motor vehicle laws that directly relate to public safety, such as speeding, driving while intoxicated, go through a stop sign or red light, careless and reckless driving.  But should law enforcement use minor motor vehicle laws as a pretense for looking for other criminal activity?  

What do I mean by minor vehicle violations?  These motor violations could lead to subjective interpretation by the police officer.  According to the New Jersey traffic code, if you have anything hanging on the rear-view mirror of your car, it's a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-74. So, in the age of Covid-19, who doesn't hang a face mask from the rear-view mirror?  It's a minor violation with a fine of $25 (plus $33 in court costs).  That's not the problem.  The problem is that the hanging facemask gives the police officer a legal reason to pull you over.  Now for law-abiding citizens, this shouldn't be a problem.  But there could be a problem for those who have drug addictions and may have other illegal substances in the car.  Anything a police officer finds because of the stop could be used against you. So that initial stop is enough to give the police officer a reasonable suspicion that a violation was occurring.

Besides windshield violations, other reasons for getting pulled over are tinted windows on either the front door or the front window, oversized license plate brackets blocking the license plate, and tailgating.  The good news for New Jersey drivers is that the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled a few months ago that some license plate brackets are ok. The statute in question is N.J.S.A. 39:3-33.  The Supreme Court of New Jersey state in  State v. Darius J. Carter (New Jersey Supreme Court, August 2021) “if a frame conceals or obscures a marking in a way that it cannot be reasonably identified or discerned, the driver would violate the law.”  Bottom line: if “New Jersey, ” or “Garden State,” or the plate numbers can be read, then you should be ok. The problem arises when the phrase on the license plate cannot be identified; then, the law can be enforced.

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