When is an illegal gun in a car not an illegal gun in a car? When police found it because of a traffic stop they never should have made.

A tinted window case from 2018 landed a man in prison for years.

Trenton police detectives were behind a car with a tinted rear window and they decided to pull the driver over. As they approached the vehicle, a detective would later testify they could see through the tinted rear window — at night, aided by a flashlight — the driver making furtive movements as if he were placing something in the space between his seat and the center console. That something would turn out to be a gun with hollow-point bullets, according to law enforcement, thus the criminal charges.

Here’s the problem. The actual tinted window law in New Jersey applies to the front windshield and the front passenger windows. It does not apply to the back passenger windows or the back window.

So that traffic stop, lawyers argued, should never have happened in the first place and the gun was what in legal circles is known as fruit of the poisonous tree. Meaning, sure, the gun was problematic but if they find it because they illegally stopped the car they cannot then bring charges for it. The evidence would be no good.

The case went before a judge followed by an appellate court and both times they sided with police and rejected the idea that the stop was improper. However, it was then on its way to the state Supreme Court. State prosecutors knew the law. They realized the stop was not for reasonable suspicion. They saw the writing on the wall.

After this driver had already spent a good amount of time in jail, they decided to vacate David Smith’s convictions. Yet the Supreme Court allowed the appeal to be heard anyway because they knew it could affect future stops.

On Tuesday, years after the incident, they found the stop improper in a 6-0 vote. Of note is the prior testimony by one of the detectives that through a rear window that was said to be non-transparent he could see the suspicious movement in the car. Even had he not, remember the rear window would still be allowed to be tinted.

In writing the unanimous decision, Justice Lee Solomon said:

“Our task in this appeal has been to interpret the language of a statute enacted a century ago. The Legislature may, of course, modify the statute’s text.”

A century ago? Yes. Believe it or not, the law in question was written all the way back in 1921. You’re telling me Model T Fords and Dodge Model 30s were already tinting windows before the 1920s and we needed a law? Yep, that’s what they’re telling us.

Maybe your great-great-grandfather was cooler than you think!

Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.

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