State v. Carter

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a critical decision regarding traffic stops based on covered or obscured license plates under N.J.S.A. 39:3-33. In these two consolidated cases, the defendants were stopped because their license plate covers obscured the phrase “Garden State”. In one case, the entire phrase was covered, and in the other case, only about 10 to 15 percent of the bottom of the phrase was covered, leaving the wording clear to anyone who looked at it. The Supreme Court noted that more than 100,000 motorists were cited in the past year for violating that provision, but zero people were cited under a different subsection that criminalized distributing offending license plate covers. The Court ruled that the statute is constitutionally overbroad when read to criminalize even the slightest markings on the plate. Thus, where the entire phrase “Garden State” is covered, the stop was lawful; where the term was only 10 to 15 percent covered, the stop was unlawful. The Court also gave a decisive victory to criminal defendants when it refused to adopt the mistake of law exception found in Heien v. North Carolina.

Carter