7/26/2016New Jersey Supreme Court Allows High Beams On Empty Roads
High court in New Jersey finds it unreasonable for police to pull over motorists for using high beams when there is no oncoming traffic.
Driving on a deserted road with high beams on is perfectly legal in New Jersey, according to a ruling from the state's highest court. The justices last week unanimously decided to drop charges against Al-Sharif Scriven, who had been pulled over on November 3, 2013 for driving with her headlights on the brightest setting.
Essex County Sheriff's Officer David Cohen initiated the disputed traffic stop, "just to basically, educate the driver to advise her that her high beams [were] on... you can't drive with your high beams on," he testified. New Jersey law, however, only requires that drivers dim their high beams when there is oncoming traffic.
Officer Cohen was stopped on the side of the road waiting to have another vehicle towed away when he saw Scriven's automobile, which was neither speeding nor doing anything else out of the ordinary. The officer, however, was irritated at being "blinded" by the light, so he ordered the vehicle to pull over so he could issue a ticket for unlawful use of the high beam. The state Supreme Court rejected the officer's conclusion that a law had been broken.
"The high-beam statute is unambiguous in its language and meaning to both the public and police," Justice Barry T. Albin wrote for the court. "We reject the state's argument that an unoccupied police vehicle parked on a perpendicular street and a police officer on foot, collectively or individually, count as an 'oncoming' vehicle under the statute. We also do not find the state's argument to be an objectively reasonable interpretation of the statute."
Prosecutors had argued that the US Supreme Court's Heien decision allows officers to conduct searches even when they pull over a motorist who has done nothing wrong (view case). The Heien precedent, however, only applies to reasonable interpretations. The court found the officer's explanation that car thieves commonly drive with high beams on to "dazzle" law enforcement to be unpersuasive.
"That generalization, standing alone, would justify the stop of any car using high beams at nighttime in an urban setting," Justice Albin wrote. The suspicion necessary to justify a stop must not only be reasonable, but also particularized."
Since the traffic stop itself was deemed unlawful, the ensuing search of the vehicle that turned up a .40 caliber handgun was suppressed.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 400k PDF file at the source link below.