NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Police can't use evidence seized during a traffic stop prompted by the driver using high beams, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled in an opinion released Wednesday.
The case stemmed from a 2013 stop in Newark that resulted in weapons charges filed against the passenger of the car.
An Essex County sheriff's officer was on foot investigating an unregistered vehicle and awaiting the arrival of a tow truck when he noticed a car approaching with its high beams on.
After pulling the car over, the officer smelled marijuana and asked the passenger to step out of the vehicle. The passenger notified the officer he had a gun under his jacket, according to Wednesday's ruling.
The passenger, Al-Sharif Scriven, was later charged with receiving stolen property and unlawfully possessing a .40-caliber handgun, hollow-point bullets and a high-capacity magazine.
In a motion to suppress the evidence, Scriven contended the officer didn't have justification to stop the car for the use of the high beams. A trial court granted the motion and the decision was affirmed by an appeals court.
The justices agreed in a unanimous opinion Wednesday, writing that state law requires there must be oncoming cars affected by the high beams to warrant a stop.
"The statutory prohibition on the use of high beams applies only when there is an 'oncoming vehicle' operated by an 'oncoming driver,'" Justice Barry Albin wrote. "The statute does not state that high beams may be used only on rural or unlit suburban roads at night, but not on a seemingly well-lit deserted city street at 3:30 a.m."