Motor Vehicle Stops and License Plate Frames (Part 7)

by | Nov 6, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: Applying the above test here, Roman-Rosado did not violate the statute. In Carter’s case, however, it is undisputed that “Garden State” was entirely covered. As a result, the plate violated the statute, and law enforcement officers had the right to stop Carter. The Court does not find persuasive Carter’s argument that the statute violated his rights under the First Amendment by requiring him to display the state motto, “Garden State.” The case on which Carter bases his argument, Wooley v. Maynard, involved two components: (1) compelled speech by the government; and (2) content a party disagreed with. See 430 U.S. 705, 715 (1977). Unlike in Wooley, the record before this Court does not include any statement or certification that Carter disagrees with the expression “Garden State” or finds it “morally objectionable.” See ibid.

Because Roman-Rosado did not violate the statute, the Court evaluates the reasonable mistake of law doctrine. The Fourth Amendment and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the State Constitution guarantee individuals the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. A motor-vehicle stop by the police constitutes a seizure and requires reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver is committing a motor-vehicle violation or some other offense. The sole basis for Roman-Rosado’s stop was his alleged violation of section 33. But, for reasons explained in the Court’s ruling, he did not violate the law. The State relies on the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Heien, which it asks the Court to adopt. In Heien, the Supreme Court held that a police officer’s mistake of law can give rise to the reasonable suspicion needed to justify a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. 574 U.S. at 57. The Court reviews Heien in detail.

The First Amendment argument advanced by the defense was a tough sell. The “morally objectionable” language in the Wooley case was “Live Free or Die”, imprinted on New Hampshire license plates. It’s difficult to make such an argument with regard to New Jersey’s plates.