Reasonable Suspicion and Motor Vehicle Stops (Part 1)

by | Aug 12, 2016 | Blog, Criminal Law, Traffic Stops

Traffic Ticket Ocean County AttorneyOn July 2016, in the case of State v. Al-Sharif Scriven, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously held that the trial court and Appellate Division properly concluded that the defendant’s motor-vehicle stop violated the Federal and State Constitutions. The language of the high-beam statute, N.J.S.A. 39:3-60, is unambiguous; drivers are required to dim their high beams only when approaching an oncoming vehicle. Neither a car parked on a perpendicular street nor an on-foot police officer count as an oncoming vehicle.

On November 3, 2013, sheriff’s officers observed an unoccupied vehicle with a fictitious temp tag located on one-way street. One officer double-parked his patrol car immediately behind the unoccupied vehicle to investigate. He kept his headlights on but did not activate his overhead lights. After determining that the vehicle was unregistered, he called for a tow truck.

While waiting on foot for the tow truck to arrive, he observed a vehicle approaching from about a quarter-mile away. The vehicle was traveling with its high beams on at a normal speed in this well-lit residential area. Using the strobe light attachment on his flashlight, the officer signaled to the driver to pull over and the driver complied. The officer claimed he intended to educate the driver on the proper use of high beams. In the officer’s experience, stolen cars are often driven with high beams, and the blinding light takes away his tactical advantage to see inside a car and know whether guns are pointed at him.

These are classic hollow excuses used by the police in an effort to justify an unconstitutional motor vehicle stop in the absence of reasonable suspicion. Logic dictates that most car thieves in stolen cars would not want to attract attention to themselves by driving around with their high beams engaged. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of cars traveling with their high beams engaged are not involved in any sort of criminal activity, let alone full of passengers with firearms trained on any police officer in their path.