By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Municipal Court Attorney
A N.J. police officer was writing a vehicle a ticket on a side street in Jersey City around 3:00 A.M. Another, unrelated vehicle was approaching him from up the street with its high beams on. The cop noted that there was nothing out of the ordinary about the vehicle. It was not speeding, nor did he believe it was a threat or involved in some sort of a crime. He merely wanted to get the driver’s attention to educate the driver and advise him that his high beams were on. He wanted to do this because it blinded the officer and impaired his sense of sight.
He signaled the vehicle to pull over and the vehicle did, in fact, pull over. The officer detected the scent of marijuana; however, there were no other visible signs of proof of any criminal activity. So he decided that he was simply going to write a summons for violating the high-beams statute and let the occupants of the vehicle go on their way. Before he was able to write the summons, the male occupant/driver of the vehicle told the officer that he had a handgun underneath his coat. The driver was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and other crimes related to the possession of the handgun.
In court, the defendant tried to suppress the evidence and the judge had determined that the defendant did not violate the high beam statute. The judge reasoned that the driver did not violate it because there were no oncoming vehicles within 500 feet traveling in the opposite direction. The statute was intended to protect drivers of the road, not pedestrians. The cop was on foot and writing someone else a ticket. The driver was driving on a one way street and there was no drivers approaching the opposite way. The legislative intent of this statute emphasized the need to provide drivers protection from other drivers who blind those driving in the opposite direction with their high beams on. There have been many accidents that occurred because drivers have been blinded by high beams from vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. In this case, the evidence was suppressed because the driver would have never been in the circumstances where he felt it was necessary to disclose he had a weapon on him – the cop should have never pulled him over in the first place.
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