Over the years, thousands of motorists have been stopped for having their license plate partially blocked. Often times, the stops are pretextual in that law enforcement’s real interest in the vehicle and its occupants is the desire to conduct a criminal investigation. In State v. Roman Rosado and State v. Darius Carter, two individuals that had been pulled over in a pre-textual manner challenged the statute on constitutional grounds. Rosado and Carter prevailed in their challenges.
The Supreme court ruled that N.J.S.A. 39:3-33 should be read narrowly and afford individuals whose license plates are partially blocked but otherwise legible the benefit of the doubt. More specifically, the court stated that, “if a frame conceals or obscures a marking in a way that it cannot be reasonably identified or discerned, the driver would be in violation of the law.” Conversely, if a phrase like “Garden State” is partly covered but still recognizable, there would be not violation.
This decision is immensely important for individuals who are pulled over in a pre textual manner only to have a subsequent investigation lead to a car search and the recovery of alleged criminal contraband.